Wednesday, October 20, 2010

County expands fee-for-firefighting system despite recent failure that let house burn down

A rural Tennessee county has tentatively decided to expand its subscription firefighting system, which "ignited debate across the country" recently after one fire department let a house burn because the owners hadn't paid their annual $75 fee, Time magazine reports.

The Obion County Commission approved a fee-system agreement with the county's municipalities but also voted "to put the issue on the ballot at the next county election to let constituents decide if they want a fire tax or fee," Chris Menees reports for the Union City Daily Leader. (Wikipedia map)

"The agreement has been in the works for about two years, but the issue of county-wide fire protection has received significant attention in recent days in the aftermath of a rural South Fulton fire where firefighters from a municipal fire department could not respond because the property owner had not paid an annual rural fire subscription fee," Menees writes. That department won't be part of the agreement, which says "South Fulton intends to provide rural fire service outside its city limits as directed by its city commission in a designated fire service area." Menees continues, "Ironically, the issue of county-wide fire protection resurfaced and discussion of an agreement began a little over two years ago following a similar rural fire situation near South Fulton."

One commissioner said the incidents show that subscription services, which are common in rural America, are unreliable, but another said the services have worked well except for those isolated incidents. A son of the couple who lost their home because they hadn't paid said the solution is a countywide fire tax, which the commission voted to put on next year's ballot. (Read more)

Carmen Sisson of Time reports, "The International Association of Fire Fighters has condemned the South Fulton Fire Department's inaction as "incredibly irresponsible." Typically, subscription departments send bills to non-subscribers who need their services, but many if not most of the bills go unpaid. Sisson notes that the agreement would expand the subscription system to five departments that don't currently charge fees. County Mayor Benny McGuire said the system would guarantee coverage for areas that don't have it now. (Read more)

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