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County leaders says Mt. Juliet should pitch in on fire protection
Nov 09, 2005 12:00 am
November 8, 2005
Stressing the need for "equity" in county-funded services, a handful of key Wilson County commissioners have called for Mt. Juliet to take a more active role in funding fire protection services within its corporate limits.
The commissioners' comments came just days after members of the county's emergency management panel rejected a proposal to purchase an aerial ladder truck to fight fires in buildings taller than three stories – a purchase some county officials argued would largely be used within the city limits of Mt. Juliet.
"Mt. Juliet is not going to get any preferential treatment from us any more than the east side of the county," District 13 Commissioner Bob Lannom, who chairs the county's emergency management committee, said. "We're trying to get fire stations in the east side of the county … I'd say people just want equity. People pay the same amount of taxes. They should have the same amount of service."
And while Wilson Emergency Management Agency Director Jerry McFarland said the new truck would be needed to adequately protect portions of Wilson Central High School and a new high school in Mt. Juliet, Lannom and other county officials said the purchase would wipe out the county's ambulance fund.
The fund is used to build new emergency response stations and to purchase new equipment, according to Lannom.
"That system is working real well. All of our fire equipment is paid for, or fixing to be paid for, and we will have funds to pay cash for the next fire engine we need or the next ambulance we need," he said. "Also, part of that fund goes into bricks and mortar for new buildings, so we're going to build firehouses around the county.
"This one ladder truck – if it's bought – will destroy that whole plan. It will take up all of the money that's in reserve now and also takes up all of the money for the next five years."
Other county officials contacted by The Democrat said an offer of financial assistance from Mt. Juliet might have helped the proposal's chances.
"Mt. Juliet needs to take a good, hard look at this thing … and evaluate the situation," District 8 Commissioner W.J. "Mac" McCluskey, whose district lies in West Wilson, said.
McFarland agreed and explained he has approached city officials in Mt. Juliet to request assistance in the provision of fire protection. Currently, the city relies entirely upon WEMA for fire protection services.
"About once a year, it'll come up that Mt. Juliet's not paying its fair share and that we'd do better if they'd pitch in some money. I've been personally to Mt. Juliet three or four years ago to say, 'you guys really need to come forward because it would solve a lot of animosity in county government,'" McFarland remarked. "But, nobody ever seemed to want to do that."
District 15 Commissioner Billy Swindell conceded rampant growth in Mt. Juliet over the past few years has resulted in numerous needs in West Wilson, specifically in the construction of new schools. He noted both Watertown and Lebanon levy a city property tax to help provide for fire protection, while Mt. Juliet does not.
"I'm not mad at Mt. Juliet. Don't get me wrong," Swindell said. "I just feel like they ought to stand up and pay for part of what they've got down there … This section of the county that I live in is beginning to grow, too."
Swindell added county government's No. 1 priority at this time is to build a new fire hall on Highway 70 between Lebanon and the Wilson/Smith County line. He noted $300,000 have already been set aside for the project, which is likely to be completed next year.
Asked whether the age-old east versus west debate is at the heart of the most recent fracas, District 14 Commissioner Rusty Thompson said no. Instead, he said, commissioners are "acting in the taxpayers' best interest."
"I think the cities need to look at themselves and need to provide whatever enhanced services for their residents that they feel are necessary," Thompson added. "County government is set up to provide basic services, not urban services, just basic services throughout the county. We're not set up to provide urban-type services and don't normally try to do so."
A call to Mt. Juliet City Manager Robert Shearer was not returned Monday.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.