By Brent Stuart of Kingston Springs
Dear Cheatham County Citizens,
Fire, rescue, and emergency services have been a very hot topic of debate the past two years in our County. Until July 1st of last year, only citizens in the Kingston Springs Rural, Pegram City and Pegram Rural Fire Districts had been paying a specified fire tax for the fire and rescue services provided by those fire departments. The only other people that pay a “tax” for these services are residents that own property in the corporate limits of the Towns of Ashland City and Kingston Springs. A portion of their city property taxes go to fund these services to those inside the said limits. Services funded by the fire tax or city property taxes do not include response and/or transport by a Cheatham County ambulance. That is a service of the county funded by county property tax revenue. So until July 1st last year, the fire and rescue services provided by all other fire departments in our county were funded mostly by donations from fund drives held by those fire departments in their respective fire districts. The problem with donations is that not everyone gives to support the cause. That is why the remaining fire departments still relying on these donations asked the county to enact the fire tax in their district. Some were having a hard time making ends meet to keep the doors open. Others were encountering expenses that were more than the incoming revenue to provide services in their rural districts. So Cheatham County Commissioners voted in and entered into a 1 year fire tax contract for those remaining fire departments/fire districts that didn’t currently have the tax. The departments that already had fire tax contracts (Kingston Springs and Pegram) were given notice that their contracts would end on June 30, 2012.
So this brings us to the present. All fire tax contracts across the county are up for renewal July 1, 2012. In the past few months, there has been much debate and discussion amongst county and city leaders and fire department administrative personnel over the renewal of these contracts. I know that there are many views and opinions on this matter and that still to this day there are citizens and even some county commissioners that are strongly against this fire “tax”. But no matter who is for or against it, we all need to know the facts of this situation. Currently the County’s Emergency Services Committee has been trying to get contracts written and in place so the current 7 fire departments providing these fire and rescue services will continue to provide these services starting July 1st this year. Each fire department’s board of directors or city leaders will then have to agree to the terms of the contract and provide a signed contract back to the Emergency Services Committee. Once this is done, the ESC still has to present the agreed upon contracts to the entire County Commission for a vote. They can of course either vote to approve or disapprove the contracts and decide the fate of fire and rescue services for all citizens outside the corporate limits of the municipalities in the county. But it hasn’t even gotten a chance to make it that far yet. ESC members, city leaders, and fire department administrative personnel are having trouble agreeing upon terms of the contracts that have been drafted so far. Some of the differences being expressed from the city leaders and FD personnel are over the life of the contracts, desired bench marks concerning ISO ratings set forth within the contracts, out clauses, and annual increases. There are still some ESC members and even other county commissioners in attendance stating that their constituents still do not want these services at all.
If contracts cannot be agreed upon and the fire departments or municipalities that own these departments opt out and do not wish to provide fire and rescue services to their respective rural fire districts or…. lets say it does get past the ESC but voted down by the County Commission and is not resolved by July 1st, citizens in the rural fire districts will be without fire and rescue services. Does everyone know what this means and the severity of the situation? This means no fire suppression for any fires. This includes structure, vehicle, brush/grass, cooking fires and so on. This also means no rescue services of any type. This includes vehicle extrication, search and rescue, equipment entrapment, collapse entrapment and so on. This will also include no first response to medical and trauma incidents. This includes heart attacks, CPR in progress, strokes, amputations, falls and so on. An ambulance will still respond to the medical and trauma calls as they do now. But what if your ambulance is responding from a greater than normal distance due to all the other ones being tied up on other calls? What if you or your loved one is pinned in a vehicle? The ambulance is still coming but they do not carry any rescue tools to free you from a mangled vehicle. Now, what if you or your loved one are not only pinned, but the vehicle is now on fire from the collision? Yep the ambulance is still coming but besides not having rescue tools, they don’t carry water for suppression either. The only people that suppress fires and provide rescue services in this county are the 7 existing fire departments that do so today. This is it, the County doesn’t have the infrastructure that these departments have nor can they afford to put it in place.
I believe citizens can say that they are dead set against the tax and these services and that don’t want or need them or can even afford to pay it. But I argue that if their child or spouse was in an accident requiring extrication or was trapped inside anything burning, they would pay whatever the cost to save the life of their loved one. I would also guarantee that when they picked up their phone to call for help, the first number they would dial wouldn’t be a friend or a neighbor, it would be 911. We all have to pay for services whether we ever use them or not, but they are in place when we do need them. I live in the Kingston Springs Rural Fire District. I have been paying the fire tax since I moved here in 2005. I currently have a low insurance premium because I benefit from the ISO Rating of 4 that the Kingston Springs FD obtained in previous years. If I lose my fire protection, I will drop to a 9 or even a 10 rating and my annual premium will surely double. I could even lose insurance coverage all together if there is no FD to respond to and protect my property. That would probably result in my mortgage company finding out that I didn’t have homeowner’s insurance anymore and them calling my mortgage. Well if the county commissioners think they’ve heard grief from citizens about enacting the fire tax, wait until they start hearing from the ones that are placed in this situation.
All in all folks, I couldn’t personally tell you what I pay for my fire tax. It all comes out of my escrow account with my mortgage company and is just worked into my monthly house payment. But I can assure you this, whatever the amount is, it is worth every penny to me to know that I have insurance to keep my mortgage in place and to be able to stay in my house. Most of all though, it’s the peace of mind knowing that no matter what the incident or emergency may be, when I call 911 someone is coming to my aide. I also know as a Fire Chief, that the tax provides secure funding for my department and has for the last 11 years. With this funding we have been able to replace our entire fleet and also some outdated and unsafe equipment. This gives our firefighters the best, most reliable, and state of the art equipment to utilize in your time of need. These can increase your chance of survival in trauma and life threatening situations. So I ask you, if you want these fire and rescue services and are willing to pay for them, please call your County Commissioners and let them know. They need to hear the voices of the citizens that support this and not just the ones that oppose it.
* Brent Stuart currently resides in Kingston Springs. Born and raised in Pegram, he is a lifetime resident of South Cheatham. He just celebrated his 20th year with the Pegram Fire Department where he has served as Fire Chief since 1999. Stuart is also the current President of the Cheatham County Firefighter’s Association.