published Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Bradley County fire plan won’t increase taxes

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County can enhance its full-time fire department without a fire-tax increase, county Mayor D. Gary Davis told commissioners this week.

Davis reviewed the plan, which calls for two additional fire stations and 36 more firefighters by the time the county’s fire contract with the city ends in 2013.

The county department has two stations and 24 firefighters, plus a volunteer force that will remain with the expanded service.

The fire-tax rate, which is separate from the property tax rate of $1.79 per $100 of assessed value, is 33.5 cents in the five-mile “fringe” area around the city’s fire stations, which is covered by the city, and 26.4 cents in rural areas.

The county pays the city $1.8 million annually for fire service in urban areas.

“The numbers look more encouraging than they ever have,” Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said.

Davis, who said the “No. 1 priority is to keep the coverage we have,” will present the plan again Tuesday to the County Fire Board, which has recommended forgoing any new contract with the city.

The County Commission already has voted down a merger between city and county fire departments.

The contract with the city ends June 30, 2013, so there will be six months of overlap between it and the expanded county service, Davis said. But the timetable is necessary so the county can have an insurance rating from the Insurance Services Organization, he said.

For fiscal year 2011-12, which began July 1, money is budgeted in the county fire fund on land purchase for a U.S. 64-area fire station. The county already has bought a station site on Georgetown Road.

For 2012-13, beginning July 1, 2012, the plan shows new employees’ expenses kicking in, Davis said. The 36 new firefighters will be hired in three stages beginning in late 2012, he said.

Under the current city contract, the Cleveland Fire Department covers the county within five miles of each of the city fire stations. With the new county fire stations, the “fringe” area expands.

Some property owners who pay a lower fire tax now for being in the “rural” tax district may see their fire tax change as they are moved into the “fringe” area, Davis said, but their fire service will be enhanced, too, he said.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock said he will introduce a resolution Monday asking the commission chairman to appoint a committee to work with the city on a potential new contract.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Bill Estes asked city staff for a report on the actual cost of city fire service to the county.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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