Chiefs seek community support

Friday, June 11, 2010
South Marshall Fire Chief Phil Dyer, left, and Marshall County Fire Chiefs Association president Jimmy Flowers, center, discuss county funding to volunteer departments among half a dozen, or more, chiefs concerned about public safety.

Fire chiefs in Marshall County have started taking the temperature of the people they serve to see if they're as hot as firefighters over a planned 39 percent cut to appropriations for their equipment and operating budgets.

"I would like to have every fire truck driven around the Courthouse square" to protest, said Fire Chiefs president Jimmy Flowers of the Mooresville Fire Department. "I'm tempted to not go to the Fourth of July parade. I can't see paying for gas for trucks in a parade."

Marshall County's Emergency Management Agency was budgeted $481,861 for the fiscal year ending June 30. The County Budget Committee is recommending that be reduced by $109,943 to $371,658 -- a department cut of nearly 23 percent. Fire departments are funded from the EMA budget. Last summer they were appropriated $134,130. Now, $82,180 is recommended. That $51,950 cut is 38.73 percent of what was provided for the fiscal year coming to a close.

"Every fire department needs to call a community meeting," Flowers said. "We've got to do something to let our commissioners know we can't stand this."

Ultimately, that was what the fire chiefs decided Tuesday night when they met in the EMA office at the Hardison Office Annex on College Street in Lewisburg.

A community meeting was to have been held Thursday night, Flowers said. Other fire departments were to meet over the weekend. The chiefs are to meet again at 5 p.m. Monday "to see the feeling of the communities and then decide what to do next," Flowers said. "They're talking about parking all the fire trucks around the square before the next county commission meeting."

Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 28, in the Courthouse Annex at East Commerce Street and South First Avenue on Lewisburg's public square. It's their regular monthly meeting.

Ironically, the meeting includes a vote on a resolution to cut commissioners' pay by $200 per month to $130.19 to show "by example ... that they are aiding in solving this economic situation by forfeiting part of their pay." The resolution is similar to one adopted in October 2009 to provide fire department funding. That pay cut expires on Aug. 31 when commissioners' current terms end. The new cut is aimed at those who are elected on Aug. 5 and sworn in for a term starting Sept. 1.

Several years ago, commissioners had been appropriating less than half of this year's spending on fire departments, but it grew and is now seen as unsustainable because of harsh economic conditions. Budget Committee members have said department leaders should make decisions on where to cut their spending. Pay rate cuts and layoffs have been discussed as a way to trim spending.

Restrictions on spending for fire departments were suggested as a way to save personnel, according to an explanation from Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the County Budget Committee.

"It's hard to see how they will save three jobs and lose fire services," Flowers said. "It just doesn't make sense."

He and other chiefs complain that firefighters have been "flipping burgers to raise money to work for free."

"We've given our blood, sweat and tears for this," South Marshall Fire Chief Phil Dyer said.

Paul Rigsby, fire chief for the developing department at Caney Springs, police chief in Nolensville and who has served as fire chief at College Grove and is a former fire chief at Chapel Hill, reported funding to fire departments in other counties. Each department in Rutherford County gets $30,000, he said. Williamson provides more, he said Tuesday night.

"There is no obligation or law to say they (commissioners) have to do the" annual funding, Rigsby said. "However, we have no duty to respond other than the moral responsibility to respond."

Clearly aggravated, the fire chiefs decided to consult with their neighbors and friends who buy their hamburgers, chili suppers and family photo packages to support the departments.

Also Tuesday, Five Points Fire Chief L.L. McClure asked, "Why not have a meeting with the commissioners?" He was told commissioners don't understand the complexities of the situation.