by Mel Griffith
Once again the county taxpayers have been taken to the cleaners by the City of Cleveland. The County Commission has once again approved a fire protection contract with the city instead of supporting Bradley County's own fire department. The new contract will take effect when the present contract expires at the end of June 2010, but little will change from the present contract, which rips off county taxpayers.
There will be payments of $1.8 million per year, same as the present rate for two years, and half that much the third year. That means we will be pouring about $4.5 million down the same rat hole we have already poured millions down during the last sixteen years.
When the city started grossly overcharging the county for fire protection in 1993, the county set out to build its own fire department. Yet every time a fire contract with the city is set to expire, county officials play the same theme song, "We are just not ready, we need another contract to give us time to get ready." That's the same song they played this time and you can count on hearing it again in three years when the new contract is set to expire. If Bradley County can't develop a fire department in sixteen years, it is either because it doesn't really want to or it is the most incompetent organization in the world.
The truth is that some of the folks sitting up on the commission bench who were elected to look out for county taxpayers, instead look out for the city budget at county taxpayers expense. In reality, the "not ready" argument this time was a phony one, because the county was perfectly capable of being ready to provide county-wide protection by the deadline.
The fire board recommended against a new contract, and there was a realistic plan to provide all necessary buildings and equipment on time, including a plan for financing what was needed. All this work, which would have saved the taxpayers millions, was ignored by the commission. Some commissioners claim to be against duplication of services, yet the new contract has the city duplicate coverage with the new county fire station at Tasso, which is staffed and equipped equal to a city fire station. The function of the paid staff at Tasso when there is a fire in their area will be to watch the city go by and fight the fire. How's that for efficient use of tax dollars? That situation is the equivalent to a farmer buying new hay equipment, hiring help to harvest hay, and then having his help watch custom harvesters put up the hay. Some might think that he was a bit "teched" in the head to waste his money that way, but of course, the commission isn't spending their own money, they're spending yours.
The new fire contract with the city passed only because some commissioners who have made a show of supporting the county fire department jumped ship and turned up on the city's side when the crucial vote came. Some of their voters may want to ask them about that during their next campaign.