by Mel Griffith
As another year draws to a close and an election year rolls around perhaps we should reflect on how our county government has been doing. The present commission, county mayor, school board and other officials have much to be proud of during their term. A new justice center has been completed and a new juvenile center is just being finished. Bradley High School has been redone, and Ocoee Middle School will soon be renovated. The future of Bradley Memorial Hospital has been assured by its transfer to private enterprise. This hospital filled an urgent need at the the time it was started by the county, but it always was, in essence, a socialist enterprise, that is, a business operated by government. Experience tells us that private enterprise is better than government at operating businesses.
One of the best Bradley County success stories is the Bradley County Fire Department. When a group of private citizens, of which I was part, got together in 1992 to work for better fire protection, fire protection was very poor. The county then provided no fire protection of its own, though it had done so previously and depended entirely on the city. Early progress was slow and disappointing. Some people, including commissioners saw no need for the county to have its own fire department. When a committee of citizens was appointed to study the issue only a minority recommended the county start its own department. Starting with nothing, look what has been accomplished in 13 years. We now have seven volunteer stations, one station manned by full-time fire fighters, and perhaps the best inventory of fire-fighting equipment in the area. Buildings are frequently too far gone to save by the time they are discovered, but the buildings which can be saved no longer burn down in Bradley County due to lack of firefighters, equipment or water. All this has required a fire tax which we didn't have before, but look at the results to show for it.
Roads are in the best shape in our history, despite limited funds. No schools are overcrowded, though some are full. Most, though not quite all, of the portable classrooms have disappeared.
What are the challenges for the new commission to be elected next year? One of the most urgent will be completing the development of the Bradley County Fire Department. It must be ready to take over fire protection for the entire county when the present contract with the city expires. The contract with the city is a waste of taxpayer's money which we cannot afford. We must build and equip at least one more county fire station and at least double the number of paid firefighters as well as make some other improvements.
Another challenge which must be met is the need to upgrade our rural roads. While our re-paving program has been excellent, many of our roads are simply too narrow to safely carry the volumes of traffic that residential development has brought about. A program to widen and upgrade our roads must somehow be started, even though just keeping what we have paved is presently a challenge.
Another improvement we must be planning for, though it may not need to come about in the next four years, is the development of a third middle school in Bradley County, either by converting Charleston to a middle school and building an elementary school to replace it or building a new middle school.
There will be many needs and wants in the coming years and there will be those who think that it is government's job to raise taxes high enough to appease all wants, but the new commission must work to meet as many needs as possible within the present tax structure. This may mean that some will have to wait longer than they want, but the future progress of the county depends on keeping taxes reasonable.