By DALE GRAHAM
The Cheatham County Commission met in regular session Monday night. All members were present.
The topic that many in the south end of the county are most interested in at this time is the contracts between the county and the cities, to provide emergency services to the rural areas, outside of the city limits. In Pegram, that tax is paid by all residents since there is no property tax there. Those contracts have been lingering in limbo, as have city leaders, waiting to hear what the changes would be to a very peaceful existence, at least for Pegram and Kingston Springs, for nearly the past 10 years.
In an attempt to get the entire county under one contract, last year those Kingston Springs and Pegram contracts were cancelled effective June 30th, 2012. The plan supposedly was to have new contracts ready for signing long before that date arrived, but that can only occur if all of Cheatham County is on the same page. It has become more and more clear that they are not.
During the public forum Monday night, Mr. James Jenkins of the rural area outside of Ashland City spoke up about the proposed fire contracts that were on the night’s agenda. “Do we really need a tax, especially a tax increase, at a time that we’re in right now. Maybe I’m the only person here that’s aware of it, but we’re very close to, if not actually in an economic depression”, Jenkins said, suggesting that it was more time to “cut coupons like my wife does”. He went on to say that he wasn’t against emergency service and fire protection, but added, “it’s just how it’s going to get funded”. He added that because of the rural nature of his neighborhood and the distance to the nearest fire station, and water access, his ISO rating would not improve, nor would his homeowner’s insurance go down.
Another gentleman spoke later in the public forum against the fire tax. “when does the tax end? Every agency wants more money,” he said. “I’d like to see another solution to the problem instead of just saying, ‘let’s raise taxes’”, and asked them to put off the vote.
During the meeting, Commissioner Donnie Jordan explained that he and the Emergency Services Committee were recommending contracts to be given to Mayor McCullough to be taken to each of the cities and fire departments for negotiation, and then returned to the County Commission for final approval. Jordan asked for a vote to approve the contracts as they were before presenting to McCullough, but certain commissioners felt like that was a “meaningless vote” since the contracts would be changed in negotiations. It remains to be seen if the commission will vote to approve the contracts in any form, as certain districts are opposed to the “tax”.
McCullough said that from his understanding, “the cities aren’t completely happy with everything at this point, and so what we’re trying to do is fine tune these contracts so that we can all at the end of the day work together to continue some type of service to the citizens of Cheatham County.”
McCullough added that it was important for the contract negotiations to be wrapped up in a couple of weeks, so that the cities can get on with their approvals and budgeting.
The contracts as presented Monday night have a 3-year term. They do not include an annual 3% increase as the Kingston Springs contract did, Pegram’s annual increase was set at 4%. The different cities will be paid “a primary service fee” annually, “to provide fire protection services and special service functions in the rural fire district”. That money will be generated from the “Fire Tax”, which is based on assessed property values and collected along with county property taxes. The annual amount generated by that tax and to be paid to the town of Kingston Springs is set at $147, 830. Pegram will receive $34,555 annually (for coverage of the rural district only).
Additionally, “the county agrees to provide $200,000 annually to the County Fire Chief”, [Edwin Hogan], “to be distributed annually” to the various departments. The Kingston Springs and Pegram Fire Departments will each receive $27,500 annually according the contract as written.
Several of the cities have already stated that they would prefer a 5-year contract for budgeting purposes, that they want the 3% annual increase retained, and most aren’t pleased with the method of distributing the annual amount as well.
The commission meeting was recessed in order to reconvene on April 30th at 7p.m., in anticipation of successful negotiations. McCullough was set to meet Thursday night of this week with the representatives from the cities, and fire chiefs.
McCullough said “My goal is to have something to present to the budget committee on Tuesday” (April 23rd). He added that he has asked the Emergency Services Committee to meet then as well, in an effort to be ready in time for the meeting April 30th.
Also at the meeting: The county will save approximately $18,000 by changing business service providers for phone and internet services from AT & T to Charter Business.
A rezone request by Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Andrea Hand to change a parcel at 1511 Hwy. 70 in the 6th District, from Ag to E-1. The county’s Planning Commission approved the request by a vote of 7 yes, 1 no, 1 absent. The County Commission denied the request.
Honored at the meeting was Casey Crone, who at 13 years of age, heroically saved the life of her father, Daniel Ray Crone on October 4th, 2010 when he suffered a massive heart attack on the road just north of Atlanta. Casey grabbed the steering wheel of the truck and turned off the motor and brought the truck to a stop on the side of a busy highway. She flagged down 2 police officers who immediately began CPR. Her father survived without neurological damage, received a heart transplant and was back to work in 9 months. She was honored for her “maturity, strength and courage in the face of danger”. Her proud father also encouraged the audience to consider become organ donors. Pictured are County Mayor David McCullough, Casey and her parents, County Commission Chairman John Haines.