Today is Saturday, June 24, 2017

Property taxes stay for fire protection only

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Monday night Mt. Juliet city squires reversed a first reading ordinance vote and decided city property taxes will remain dedicated to fire protection exclusively.

At their last meeting their majority vote was to roll the emergency services fund comprised only of city property tax revenue into the general fund with the thought the growing fire department should not be strapped exclusively to city property tax revenue.

However, Monday night city commissioners said they've realized the fire department does have access to general fund revenue if needed and an ordinance to combine the property-tax-funded emergency services fund with the city's general fund would be moot. They unanimously deferred the ordinance indefinitely.

Fire Department of Mt. Juliet Chief Jamie Luffman noted he was not sure he had access to general funds.

"I knew there was an option," he said. "But I was not sure one of them was general funds. We will continue to use 100 percent of the property tax and watch the developments and what they produce [In property tax]."

He said the 16.5 percent property tax will be sufficient and if other needs arise he will address the city commission for need.

Before the vote to defer, Commissioner Brian Abston said for the first time since elected, he decided to change his previous vote on this issue.

"I've had a lot of time to think about this," he said. "I have to agree with the mayor [to not put property tax revenues in the general fund]. I think this change would be the wrong thing to do and would not be a benefit for the most people. The fire department has its own funds and we know exactly where they are going."

He continued to say if the property tax funded emergency services fund was meshed with the general fund there would be a "transparency" problem."

"The general public will never trust we do what we say, and now they have the satisfaction of knowing," he said.

He said he heard from his constituents on this matter and they were for keeping property tax revenues for the fire department exclusively.

"I'm totally at ease with this," Luffman said. "Their wishes were to do this and I'm not saddened. The constituents in his district wanted things to stay the same and the system will work as it should be."

Luff man said he was not 100 percent sure he could ask for general funds in an emergency.

"I knew there might be other options to supplement our fund," he said. "We will watch the other developments and what they bring in for property tax. If not, we'll go to the board of commissioners."

Mayor Ed Hagerty reiterated his strong negative stance on combining the funds.

"I stood in front of 500 people about a 20-cent tax to fund the fire department," he said. "They clicked and voted with no objection. They bought into the whole concept [their taxes would fund fire service only]. This is an attempt to change what they wanted. It's opening Pandora's Box and will have growth of government unnecessary and unplanned at that time."

Commissioner Ray Justice told Hagerty he respected the mayor's promise to keep their property tax for emergency services only, but said "things change.... I don't feel we can restrict the fire department's growth."

Hagerty said combining the funds would, "Mean less of something else and more in fire, less in parks, roads police. We need to look at it in total."

Abston brought up the funds gained by selling the city-owned Sellars Funeral Home and the use of those funds for a new fire hall. He was told that revenue, while in the general fund, is "earmarked" toward a fire hall.

On second reading commissioners amended an ordinance to appropriate $813,000 from the Emergency Fund for three designated fire department needs. They voted separately on each item to consider appropriating $450,000 for a reserve fire engine, $275,000 for Green Hill Church land to construct a fire hall, and $88,000 for two command vehicles; one for the department's part time deputy chief and assistant chief.

Chief Luffman made a case for a standby fire engine and said this past week one engine was in the shop and another was down with a bad tire.

"We just had one engine and I think things like this signify a need for a reserve engine," he said.

Commissioners voted unanimously not to fund a new fire engine at this time.

Commissioners deferred one meeting in a 4-1 vote to purchase the Green Hill Church land for a new fire hall. Justice said he was trying one last ditch effort to negotiate with the Wilson County School Board for their donation of land for the fire hall on the future new Mt. Juliet High School property at Lebanon and North Greenhill Roads.

However, in a 3-2 vote squires voted to allow an expenditure of $88,000 from the emergency service fund to purchase two Ford Explorers for the department's part time chiefs. Luffman said the original vehicles used by these chiefs would be used for "low medical calls" and are "mechanically fine" for such use.

Luffman noted Deputy Chief Chris Allen and Assistant Chief Shawn Donovan will have new vehicles, however, he said he "could not be more proud and grateful" for their service that reaches far beyond part time status.

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