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Councilors fired up for mayor's plan
May 10, 2006 12:00 am
May 1, 2006 – Lebanon city councilors gave an early show of support for Mayor Don Fox's plan to ask Wilson County officials for a similar fire service pact the county is poised to offer Mt. Juliet.
Although each of the three city councilors reached Monday said it was too soon to comment on the resolution itself – which has not been formally introduced – they all agreed with its purpose, which is sending a strong message to county leaders that Lebanon intends to be treated equitably.
Late last week, Lebanon City Attorney Andy Wright and Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks confirmed plans were in the works on a draft Council resolution asking for negotiations to begin between Lebanon and the Wilson County Commission on establishing a new fire service arrangement between the two governments. Wright and Weeks admitted the city is looking for a deal resembling the one Mt. Juliet tentatively secured.
Last week, the Ad Hoc Fire Study Committee agreed to extend Mt. Juliet's fire service contract – which had been in limbo for months – for five years. Under the new terms, Mt. Juliet agreed to pay the county $25,000 next year for equipment at the Mt. Juliet station.
Lebanon officials, however, took the agreement to mean Mt. Juliet had secured a deal in which they were guaranteed complete fire service from the county for a mere $25,000. Lebanon will pay nearly $3 million next year to run, man and equip its three fire halls.
Although the Ad Hoc Fire Study Committee's proposal has yet to be approved by the full County Commission, Lebanon's leaders continued to view it as unfair, and as a result indicated they are likely to speak with one voice on this issue.
"The arrangement that the county has with Mt. Juliet is not fair to the citizens of Lebanon," Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer said Monday. "However, I do not know enough about the proposal to make a decision about it at this time."
That sentiment was echoed by two first-term councilors – Ward 1's Alex Buhler and Ward 5's Haywood Barry.
"I think it's an avenue we ought to explore," Buhler said of the resolution asking the county to take over the city's fire service in exchange for a service and equipment fee. "The City of Lebanon people should be treated the same as Mt. Juliet."
Buhler said the nearly $3 million that could be saved each year if Lebanon did not have to fund its own fire station is money that could be used to deal with many of the city's other pressing issues such as the need for road expansion.
Barry agreed the issue is one of fairness.
"If they (Mt. Juliet) got that deal, it only seems fair that we should have that deal too," Barry said. "Now, I haven't read it (the Ad Hoc Fire Study's proposal) yet, but it seems to me that Lebanon's getting the shaft and Mt. Juliet's getting the gold mine."
The former county judge said either Lebanon should have the ability to make similar arrangements with the county, or city residents need to get a break on the taxes they provide to the county.
"Those, to me, seem to be the only fair solutions," Barry said.
The mayor plans on introducing his resolution to the full Council at its 6 p.m. meeting today.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.