|Fire talks about to heat up|
|Tuesday, July 10, 2012|
Special to The Chronicle
Talks regarding fire coverage in Mt. Juliet are expected to heat up once again this month as two proposals are on the table that would see Mt. Juliet paying for Wilson County Emergency Management Agency personnel in the new Providence station or having the city completely fund and staff the new station.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said the two proposals would be discussed within the County Commission Emergency Management Committee this month.
“Both the EMA committee and the Mt. Juliet City Commission are looking at two proposals to determine how Mt. Juliet fire coverage will exist,” Hutto said.
According to Hutto, one proposal would have Mt. Juliet paying WEMA to run the new Providence station that is currently under construction. District 6 County Commissioner Kenny Reich, vice chairman of the EMA committee, said the first proposal isn’t likely to find support within the committee.
“I don’t see anyone being for it,” Reich said.
The second proposal coming from Hutto would have Mt. Juliet completely staff and fund the new station with WEMA continuing to operate Station 3 behind Mt. Juliet City Hall. According to Hutto, both stations would cover the city limits and portions of the county that are within those limits.
“The Providence station would cover as much county land as Station 3 would cover city,” Hutto said.
With pockets of county land surrounded by Mt. Juliet city limits, Hutto said it is important for the two sides to work together to reach the best solution. He noted the second proposal has the county covering city limits and county land, just as the city-staffed new station would cover county land as well as the city limits.
“We have to work together to find the best and most economical way to serve our citizens,” Hutto said.
However, there are very different viewpoints between city and county officials on how to provide fire service to the growing area around Providence. Mt. Juliet Vice-Mayor James Maness said the second proposal makes little sense.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to have two different fire stations in the city, run by two different entities,” he said.
At the same time, Reich felt the long-term goal for the county should be to have Mt. Juliet fund its entire fire services like Lebanon and Watertown.
“In the long run I want to see Mt. Juliet fund their own fire department,” Reich said.
Even the second proposal, which would continue WEMA’s coverage of Mt. Juliet city limits, Reich said should only be a short term solution.
Currently, Hutto said Mt. Juliet is paying for the construction of a new fire hall in the Providence area, which the city implemented a $0.20 property tax last year to foot the bill.
The two sides have a year to reach an agreement in order to staff the fire hall once it is completed this time next year.
“We’re hoping to have that station manned this time next year,” Maness said of the new fire hall.
Filling the station with personnel and equipment should be a point of contention between city and county officials. Reich said the proposal that would see Mt. Juliet paying WEMA to staff the new station doesn’t cover a lot of costs that will accumulate over time.
Reich noted that proposal would have Mt. Juliet paying $50,000 per person to fill the station with six personnel. Reich said that would have two personnel per shift in the station at all times.
However, Reich indicated that amount would not cover the majority of expenses the county would have to pay for those six workers. Reich said the annual salary of each worker amounts to $39,042.
“You’ve got to add in Social Security, liability, their health insurance, which is about $10,000 per employee and more,” Reich said.
While the debate is centered on how fire services are provided for the growing community around Providence, a study conducted in January 2012 by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Municipal Technical Advisory Service, or MTAS, indicated fire calls in Mt. Juliet are a small portion of WEMA’s overall calls in the area.
“The majority of the emergencies in Mt. Juliet are medical emergencies, not fire,” read the report.
According to the MTAS study, WEMA responded to 197 fire emergencies in Mt. Juliet in 2010 compared to 1,539 medical responses, 742 rescue responses and 65 public assistance responses.
However, MTAS points out in its study that the city requires better fire protection to attract residences and businesses to the city. Also, MTAS stated communities around Providence have expressed their concern over current fire coverage.
According to a 2006 study by MTAS, fire stations and personnel were not adequately dispersed throughout the county and the January report pointed out “nothing has changed” in improving services to Mt. Juliet.
Another study conducted in November and December 2011, by the PFM Group, an independent financial advisory company, found that Mt. Juliet contributes 25 percent of total county revenue for a five-year period while receiving 21 percent of County-funded programs and services.
MTAS recommended a continuing partnership between city and county to address the fire protection and medical emergency coverage of Mt. Juliet. MTAS noted in its report that “Mt. Juliet is a solid contributor to the financial well-being of Wilson County” and that a partnership was the best solution.
“The most efficient and cost-effective way for Mt. Juliet to provide fire services for the community is with a cooperative agreement with Wilson County,” reads the report.
MTAS also noted it could cost the city more than $2,500,000 for a two-station fully funded fire department. The study indicated this avenue would be the most expensive solution and take the longest to implement.
Maness said the fate of the city’s property tax is up in the air after the new station is built. He pointed out when the station is complete and the city looks at its next budget, they will decide whether to lower the tax or not.
“I hate the property tax and over time, I hope if we can’t eliminate it, we can at least bump it down,” Maness said.