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MJ hiring vote ends 'fire fight'

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MT. JULIET -- By October, when six new firefighters will start their jobs, the City of Mt. Juliet will have its first citywide municipal fire department, while the Wilson Emergency Management Agency (WEMA) will still operate out of the city-owned fire station at 69 East Hill Street, which WEMA will share with city fire crews.

The citywide fire department will be made possible by a 4-0 vote of the City Commission Monday night, with Mayor Ed Hagerty abstaining, to hire six new firefighters beginning Oct. 1 at a cost of $255,000 that was added to the new city budget, which also was passed on second reading Monday night, 5-0.

After that, the expansion will cost the city about $330,000 per year, according to Chief Financial Officer John Rossmaier.

The new budget also includes a 10 percent increase in sewer rates beginning Aug. 1, which was first presented to the commissioners at their budget hearings in May. The rate increase is necessary, Public Works Director Jessica Gore said, to keep the city’s sewer fund from going into the red paying sewage treatment fees to Nashville, which processes Mt. Juliet’s wastewater.

Less clear is the outcome of a proposal to contract with Medic One instead of WEMA to provide emergency medical services to Mt. Juliet residents inside city limits. City commissioners voted Monday night to continue deferring a mutual aid agreement with WEMA that would have placed EMS duties inside the city in WEMA’s hands like they currently are, since Town Hall meetings about the proposal are scheduled for July 7 and 8.

The Medic One proposal and the WEMA agreement, which has been deferred since April, will be on the City Commission’s agenda July 14 for a decision to be made. But unlike its deferral of the EMS issue, the City Commission took action on the fire department expansion Monday night after extended debate and several parliamentary procedures, eventually culminating in the commission’s 4-0 vote to approve the budget amendment to spend the $255,000 and hire the new firefighters, including their salaries and all associated expenses of opening a second city firehouse.

The six new firefighters will need to be found and screened before they start work, which is the reason for the delay until Oct. 1. They will be added to the city’s current 12 firefighters and allow the city to open its second fire station at 69 East Hill Street, behind City Hall.

The Fire Department of Mt. Juliet will be staffed by three firefighters per shift, 24/7 at each fire station – the one on Hill Street and the new station opened last fall on Belinda Parkway, Station No. 1, said Fire Chief Erron Kinney, who praised the City Commission for its action.

“It will allow us to provide equal services to 90 percent of the city,” Kinney said. “It will exponentially improve our service.”

At the end of the commission’s discussion about the new budget, District 1 Commissioner and Vice Mayor James Maness moved to amend the budget to add six firefighters, seconded by District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice. Before the amendment could be voted on, Hagerty asked whether a decision should be delayed until the Medic One proposal can be considered, because Kinney told the commission earlier that he really needs both components.

However, Kinney said Monday that he had thought it over and could work with either addition – the six new firefighters or contracting with Medic One. “I have a plan to use either one or both components,” he said.

Kinney also said he could “do it all and start the new station by Oct. 1.”

Answering questions about whether WEMA and the FDMJ could run out of the same station, Brian Newberry, WEMA chief for the Mt. Juliet area, told the commissioners, “It’s currently working. I see no reason why it won’t continue to work.”

About that time, District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw brought up a proposal made last fall to fund the fire department expansion with impact fees paid by developers for the effects of their new construction. Kinney responded that the proposal had stalled out because the almost brand-new FDMJ doesn’t have records going back four years, before it existed, to support a study to legally justify assessing impact fees.

WEMA data, Kinney noted, can’t really apply to the city since WEMA answered calls in the county as well as in the city before the city fire department was created. But City Attorney Gino Marchetti informed the commission that he could write an enforceable impact-fee ordinance despite the lack of fire data for the past four years. 

Citing the need to consider impact fees, Bradshaw moved to defer action on the amendment until the commission’s July 14 meeting, seconded by Hagerty.

The ensuing debate partly focused on how the hiring of six new firefighters can be sustained if new construction doesn’t increase the city’s property tax revenues to pay them after the emergency service fund reserves are depleted in two or three years, as Rossmaier predicted they could be.

Possibly slowing the city’s growth may be the need to impose a construction moratorium in Mt. Juliet that the commissioners also will consider at their July 14 meeting. New structure construction is outpacing the construction of infrastructure such as sewer lines and adequately-wide roads, Justice pointed out.

The proposal to expand the fire department by six firefighters is a pretty big deal, Hagerty asserted, given the possibility of limited property tax revenue growth and the divergence from the city’s original plan, which was to build up the fire department more gradually and to only fund it with property tax revenues.

For these reasons, the mayor said, more public input is needed to see what the people of Mt. Juliet really think, and it could be obtained by waiting to act until after the Town Hall meetings July 7 and 8.

“I think we should be fully transparent,” Hagerty said. “We need to have the public meetings first.”

But Justice responded that those hearings were called to consider whether to contract with Medic One or WEMA for emergency medical services, not to consider the proposed expansion of the fire department.

“EMS isn’t a budget issue, firefighters are,” Justice told his fellow commissioners. “Districts 1, 2 and 3 are paying the tax, but they’re not receiving any benefit.”

Even so, Hagerty said, there’s no need to hurry such an important decision that would commit the city to a certain level of spending for the fire department from here on out.

“I’m just asking you to wait until July 14,” the mayor said. “I’m not against it. I’d probably vote for it in July.”

However, by July the new city budget will be in effect, and the commissioners voted at their last meeting to make it much harder to amend a city budget once it has been passed.

In the ensuing vote on Bradshaw’s motion to defer, it was defeated 3-2, as Maness, Justice and District 3 Commissioner Art Giles, who had listened carefully but had not previously commented on the issues, voting not to defer Maness’ amendment to hire the firefighters, with the deferment motion’s backers Bradshaw and Hagerty voting in its favor.

That put Maness’ amendment to hire the firefighters back on the floor, and the commissioners joined together, with the exception of Hagerty who abstained, to go ahead and vote for the expansion plan, 4-0.

Subsequently, the entire budget for the new fiscal year that will begin July 1, including the hiring of the new firefighters, was passed by a fully-united commission, 5-0.

Other amendments to the budget that the commission passed Monday night included:

  • Transferring $150,000 from last year’s budget to the 2014-15 budget for upgrading the Nonaville Road sewer pump station.
  • Appropriating $11,000 to complete the renovation and remodeling of City Hall now that the Police Department has moved out into its new headquarters in the old Joy Church building on Charlie Daniels Parkway.
  • Appropriating $11,000 for a state-required traffic study to prove the need to widen the Mt. Juliet Road bridge at I-40.
  • Approving $42,000 to patch Providence Trail at Bridgemill Drive.
  • Appropriating $2,300 to buy a new ice-making machine for Charlie Daniels Park.

Another issue that produced a split vote was Giles’ motion, deferred since May,  to spend $9,000 from the current budget to install two “rumble” strips measuring 100 feet apiece along the edges of Old Lebanon Dirt Road to deter accidents into the historic Old Chandler Stone Wall beside the road.

Giles moved Monday night to change his ordinance into a resolution requesting city employees, at no additional cost to the city, to perform a study to determine what actually needs to be done to fix the road. His motion was approved 4-1, with Justice holding out for the commission to simply go ahead and install a guard rail along Old Lebanon Dirt Road right away, citing urgent safety concerns.

In other action at City Commission, committee members for this year’s Mt. Juliet Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society Judith Rossi, Joni Price and Carol Sheehan appeared before the commission to announce the top five fundraising teams at the Relay, speaking together with their fellow committee member Jim Bradshaw, the Relay’s entertainment chair.

In first place, Wilson Bank & Trust of West Wilson County raised $10,579; in second, Totty Chiropractic raised $9.925; and in third, Del Webb’s “Young at Heart” team raised $5,942. Placing fourth was First Freedom Bank and fifth was Summit Health Care Associates.

The total raised for the Cancer Society by the Relay was $50,515, Bradshaw said, but he and the other committee members said they expect about another $2,000 to still come in.

Police Chief James Hambrick also honored City Dispatcher Richard Frankich at the City Commission meeting for being one of only two people in the nation honored this year by the National Communication Emergency Number Association (NCEMNA).

On Father’s Day, the NCEMNA named Frankich one of the nation’s two best emergency dispatchers of the year, Hambrick explained to the commission. The award was given to Frankich at the NCEMNA’s annual conference, which was held this year in Nashville and attended by about 10,000 professional telecommunicators.

Frankich, whose award included getting to attend the conference for free, accepted the honor in front of about 800 or 900 of his peers – as well his dad.

“Watching him receive that honor was the best Father’s Day present ever,” said his dad, Mike Frankich.

Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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Fire Department of Mt. Juliet, Mt. Juliet City Commission, Wilson Emergency Management Agency
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