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Fire contract faces obstacles
May 11, 2006 12:00 am
May 3, 2006 – Officials from Mt. Juliet to Watertown are still unsure what to make of the agreement produced last week by the Ad Hoc Fire Study Committee. But numerous officials agree on one point: a barrage of political obstacles stand in the way of the new pact winning approval from the County Commission.
In fact, several officials have speculated that based on the immediate reaction to the agreement – which allows Mt. Juliet to continue receiving county fire service for the next five years – it may not even get as far as the County Commission before being sent back to the drawing board.
The first body to formally consider the agreement is the Mt. Juliet City Commission. Last week, all four city commissioners surprised many Mt. Juliet representatives by questioning the terms of the deal and manner in which it was reached.
The Mt. Juliet Commission is scheduled to meet Monday.
Mt. Juliet commissioners said they would withhold final judgment on the agreement until they have a chance to scrutinize it further.
Sources who have closely tracked the study committee's agreement say the outcome of the Mt. Juliet Commission meeting could very well set the stage for how the county approaches the agreement.
County Mayor Robert Dedman said county commissioners were sure to have a great deal of questions about the agreement between now and their next meeting, which is Monday, May 15.
"I think there are some questions about it," Dedman said. "They're going to want to see the resolution, but as soon as it goes out in a package they'll have some questions on it."
Dedman, who has stated publicly he wants Mt. Juliet to provide its own fire service eventually, also said he is not certain the agreement will be received favorably by the full Commission.
"I'm not sure the county commissioners are going to go for it or not," Dedman said. "And where this $25,000 came from I don't know."
Further complicating matters is a proposal from Lebanon Mayor Don Fox asking the county to give his city the same fire deal as Mt. Juliet.
Dedman said he understood where Lebanon was coming from in bringing the resolution before its City Council.
"I can see their point," Dedman said. "They've probably got the same right to ask for it, if Mt. Juliet asked for it."
But Dedman also wondered if the move could be seen as a show of support for a Metropolitan form of government, an idea once again batted around by county and city officials.
"But on the other hand, is that the first step toward trying to bring in Metropolitan government?" Dedman asked. "Mayor Fox has indicated that we ought to look into it. Is this a step that way, or does he just want to throw a fee (for fire service) out there?"
Dedman said the outcome of Lebanon's proposal is likely to have a direct result on how the County Commission votes on the agreement.
Meanwhile, one municipality that has been forced to sit back and wait is Watertown, which has a volunteer fire department that services the town as well as unincorporated areas in East Wilson County.
Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings said the city's long-term emphasis is still on creating a joint county-city emergency management building.
"About a year or so ago, we started working with the county to come up with a joint city-county emergency services building in Watertown," Jennings said. "We are still very much interested in doing that."
But, like Lebanon, Jennings said the agreement Mt. Juliet just secured on a preliminary basis has piqued his interest.
Noting Watertown's current fire setup serves its residents well, Jennings said "if the county and the other municipalities choose to go this route, where the county provides services and the city pays so much money, then of course we'd be interested in pursing that as well."
For the time being, Watertown is at the mercy of greater forces, namely the county and larger Wilson County cities.
"We're standing back awaiting to see what comes out of all this," Jennings said. "But our focus right now is continuing to pursue this joint building that the city would provide the space for … where we can house all the fire equipment we have, house the county's ambulance and all where the vehicles can be maintained.
"Now, if everything else shifts to something like Mt. Juliet and Lebanon are proposing, we may shift our focus as well," he said.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.