published Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Bradley County Commission rejects fire departments merger

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission has rejected a merger between the county fire department and the Cleveland Fire Department.

The vote was 8-6 on Monday.

Commissioner Mel Griffith, who made the motion that received the majority vote, said the county will continue to develop its full-time department. The decision does not rule out any future talks with the city on some contract, Griffith said.

The county now contracts with the city to provide fire protection service in an urban area around the city limits. That contract expires in 18 months.

The county fire department has two full-time stations backed by eight volunteer stations. It responds to calls in the rural areas.

A city-county task force to examine the fire department merger recently presented its findings to the Cleveland City Council and County Commission after a six-month study.

The task force recommended a board of directors be set up by Jan. 1, 2012, and the new department begin by July 1, 2012, should there be a merger.

Last week, the Cleveland City Council voted to delay a vote on the merger for 30 days, pending a city staff review of the task force report. But if the county rejected the merger proposal, council members said, the issue would become moot.

Some commissioners sought a delay on the vote so the council and commission could meet to discuss the task force’s findings.

“We have not sat down, as a group of elected officials, and gone through this in the detail I think is necessary,” Commissioner Bill Winters said. “If it is not financially feasible, if it does not provide the service that needs to happen in both the city and county, then we will know in which direction to go.”

“There is no rush on this,” Commissioner Jeff Morelock said.

But Griffith said the county has wrestled with fire contracts and creating its own department for 19 years.

“Maybe [we] just need to refer it to our grandchildren to study it,” he said.

Several motions on city-county talks ended in 7-7 ties before Griffith’s motion was approved.

Commissioners voting with Griffith were Terry Caywood, Ed Elkins, Louie Alford, Connie Wilson, J. Adam Lowe, Bill Ledford and Robert Rominger.

Commissioners against the motion were Mark Hall, Bill Winters, Jeff Morelock, Brian Smith, Cliff Eason and Jeff Yarber.

Contact Randall Higgins at rhiggins@timesfreepress.com or 423-314-1029.

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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