- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Elam pushes fire tax study
Feb 17, 2006 12:00 am
February 3, 2006
If Wilson County property taxes were adjusted – some lowered, others raised – to reflect the availability of county fire protection services, Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam says one of the longest running debates in county history could be "amicably" resolved.
"I tried to come up with something that everyone could agree was fair," Elam said.
The first-term mayor made public Thursday her proposal that involves dividing a portion of the county property tax and designating it specifically for WEMA operations. All county residents would pay to fund WEMA's ambulance service and other countywide operations, but when it comes to WEMA fire protection, Elam said taxpayers would be charged according to their access to the service.
During a recent meeting with county commissioners who represent West Wilson County, Elam said she determined "fire tax districts" could help level the playing field when it comes to property taxes across the county.
Under Elam's proposal, the rate for basic fire service for county residents within five miles of a WEMA station would be the same across the county. Those more than five miles from a station would pay a lower rate, as would residents who receive their primary fire protection from an agency other than WEMA.
County residents who lived within a five-mile radius of multiple WEMA stations, she added, would pay a slightly higher rate for the increased protection regardless of whether they live within a municipality.
"The basic service that everyone gets equally throughout the county would be billed equally throughout the county," Elam said. "The portion of their (WEMA) expenses that have to do strictly with fire protection would be an adjustable amount. It would be adjusted based upon the level of service that you receive."
Elam conceded several details of the proposal have yet to be finalized but added she and District 3 Wilson County Commissioner Fred Weston will jointly request a study by CTAS (County Technical Advisory Service) and MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) aimed at determining the best way to implement fire tax districts.
"There are many fine points to be worked out … I want it to be assessed and evaluated as a proposal in the least political manner possible. That's why I have asked if the county and the city can join together and request a joint CTAS/MTAS study," Elam explained, arguing details of the decades-old fire protection debate can be "skewed" by politics.
Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman, who heard the proposal during a small meeting between Elam and other Mt. Juliet officials earlier this week, explained CTAS would have to approve the idea, especially since a previous "fast-response, slow-response" taxing district got the county sued in the late 90s.
"In 1996, we had a slow and fast response and got sued and had to do away with it," Dedman said Thursday night. "So, we have to get approval from CTAS."
District 8 County Commissioner W.J. "Mac" McCluskey, who sits on the county's Emergency Management Agency committee and serves a portion of Mt. Juliet, agreed it was something to consider, but the rural parts of Wilson County must be considered in the plan as well.
"We have parts of the county that have no fire service at all," he said Thursday night.
For the past 19 years, Mt. Juliet has relied on county government for fire protection through an interlocal agreement between the two governments. In recent months, some key county squires have said the agreement only benefits Mt. Juliet and limits the county's ability to provide fire protection in more rural areas.
Earlier this month, District 13 County Commissioner and Wilson County EMA Committee Chairman Robert Lannom said he would seek to terminate the agreement if Mt. Juliet did not take on some of the financial burden of providing fire protection within its corporate limits.
After hearing briefly about Elam's proposal Thursday night, Lannom said the proposal is not conducive to the county's plan regarding fire service.
"That doesn't fit with what we are trying to do by providing countywide fire service," he said. "We are trying to put everyone in the county within a five-mile radius of a WEMA station … Countywide service gives everyone the same amount of service for the same amount of money. That doesn't include to provide urban five service."
But fire tax districts would ensure those receiving the highest level of protection paid more to fund the county's emergency management agency, Elam said.
Under the second element of Elam's proposal, the City of Mt. Juliet would fund the construction of a new fire station and Mt. Juliet Police Department substation on a city-owned, two-acre tract off Belinda Parkway inside the Providence development.
However, the proposal is conditional, requiring county government to purchase an aerial ladder truck and permanently assigning it to the proposed new station. Wilson County would also be required to pick up the tab for equipping and staffing the station.
That expense, Elam said, would be paid by those who receive the "enhanced level" of fire protection service – residents who live within a five-mile radius of multiple WEMA stations.
Lannom said if the West Wilson municipality wished to use the two acres of land for a fire station, it could build the facility, buy the equipment and hire the personnel to staff it. The move would allow the city a chance to run a single fire station while the county could continue providing fire service via WEMA by negotiating a new contract.
"If they want a fire station, I say, the should have at it," Lannom said. "It would give them good practical experience running a fire station."
Noting the area is quickly becoming "densely populated" and will soon become a significant source of sales tax dollars, Elam said the proposed Belinda Parkway station is a necessity.
Though an official estimate was not available, Elam estimated the city would pay between $750,000 to $1 million to build the proposed Belinda Parkway station.
"What I have proposed … is a fair and equitable system to provide the needed level of fire service throughout the county with everyone in the county paying in proportion to the service that they receive," Elam said.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.