Keith wants even fire protection
Although no formal action was taken, a request from Commissioner Gary Keith sparked lively discussions during and after the The Wilson County Budget Committee meeting last night.
Keith, who is not a member of the committee, said he had received calls from his constituents, from other commissioners and members of the Lebanon City Council concerned about the proposed agreement between the county and Mt. Juliet to provide enhanced fire protection for that city.
The Mt. Juliet City Commission will hold a town hall meeting on June 23 to hear citizen comments before a second vote on June 27 to establish an inter-local agreement with Wilson County. That agreement would provide for the county staffing a fire hall in the Providence area built with city revenue. Mt. Juliet is considering passing its first ever property tax for 20 cents as part of its proposal.
"If it comes before this committee – and I assume they will come to an agreement in Mt. Juliet – that before you put your stamp of approval on it and forward it to the full County Commission that you put in there that the same offer will have to made to any other municipality in this county. We must treat all our citizens equally whether in Mt. Juliet, Lebanon or Watertown," Keith said.
The "same offer" could lead to a county-wide fire service, said Commissioner Mike Justice after the meeting, although those words weren't used by Keith.
Keith said his concern was that all county citizens should be treated the same. He said Watertown and Lebanon could turn it down if they chose to, but they should get the same offer.
Commissioner Wendell Marlowe said since there has not been an agreement as yet, it was inappropriate for the Budget Committee to pass a resolution. He said it should come before the Emergency Management Committee and be forwarded to the Commission.
Marlowe also said such a request should come from the municipalities rather than a committee.
Justice said since it involved money it was entirely appropriate that the Budget Committee "send a message that what was offered to one should be offered to all."
Committee Chair Bernie Ash said, "That would tie our hands." He said he thought it would mean that Lebanon would turn over all its halls and equipment to the county so the county could provide fire protection for them.
Keith said, "That's not what we're saying."
Mayor Randall Hutto said the county isn't treating everybody equally now.
Keith responded that this would be a step in that direction and said it was time to quit applying "band-aid" solutions.
"I'm with you, but there is no way we're equal now," Hutto said, pointing out that County Attorney Mike Jennings, who is also mayor of Watertown, would agree.
"Well, let's not make it worse. Let's try to fix the problem," Keith said.
"The agreement I heard coming out from down there (Mt. Juliet), if the tax passes, will have to come to the WEMA Committee first and then to the County Commission," said Hutto.
He then pointed out that Mt. Juliet would pay the county for manning the fire halls and if Lebanon wanted the same deal, "I'm sure [WEMA Director] John Jewell would tell them they'd have to pay for it."
"Let me say something about trying to be equal. It don't happen," said Ash."It could end up costing us a ton of money. A while back we built a ball park at a school and before it was over we had built three ball parks trying to be equal.
"For us to pass a resolution saying we're going to do the same thing for everybody that we're doing for one – I think it's a slippery slope."
Keith said, "Speaking for myself I would have a tough time voting to treat one end of this county ... for Mt. Juliet and what they are trying to do, without making the same offer to others."
Ash asked, "What are you going to do with Norene? ... and Cottage Home?"
"Those aren't incorporated cities," Justice reminded Ash.
Also at the Budget meeting:
• Jeff Dickson won approval to continue paying a part-time employee when a grant expires at the end of this month until a new grant from the state is either approved or denied. The employee works in the program that has had success in keeping former inmates from returning to prison, he said. The new grant would require a match of $15,000 from the county to receive $45,000.
• After getting three line item transfers approved, Schools Director Mike Davis was asked to defend a proposal to spend $45,000 of the bond money originally passed to build the new Lebanon High School for security doors at the present LHS and Watertown High School. Justice said his constituents have made it clear that they didn't support the LHS tax in order to pay for other projects.
Davis said the LHS bid came in lower than expected and the bonding agreement allows spending the excess on other needed high school capital projects. He said the doors in question were recommended by the fire marshal to prevent a security hazard to the students at the two schools and the principal at LHS.