Funding for the county’s fire departments, volunteer fire departments, and rescue squads continues to be a focal point among Anderson County officials.
During the Anderson County Commission’s Operations Committee meeting on Monday, Aug. 14, officials discussed potential options for funding the fire departments.
Presently, county commission has a rotation cycle in place that stipulates every two years county fire departments, volunteer fire departments, rescue squads and other first responder agencies will receive two year’s worth of funding for equipment and fire truck purchases
The issue is that only one department at a time in this two-year funding cycle can receive county funding. Departments have to wait a period of time before they are able to get the needed funds, depending on what order they are on the funding list in a given year.
The two-year rotation is due to budgetary constraints, officials say. Prior to last year, the rotation was every year, but Commission revised the funding resolution to two years on account of limited money in the budget to cover these funds.
On Monday, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank presented to the Operations Committee possible solutions and amendments to the county’s funding resolution for fire departments.
At the meeting Monday, Frank apprised the committee that Natalie Erb, the county’s finance director, recently discovered, in looking over the county’s accounts, the county has additional fire department funds that were set aside in a reserve fund.
Frank suggested the county borrow funds from the Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund (TMBF) to get the fire departments back on an annual funding appropriation.
The Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund is an entity of the Tennessee Municipal League that works with county and city government officials to structure cost-effective and flexible loan borrowing options.
Frank said she reached out to representatives with the TMBF asking about the county’s options, and suggested commissioners consider taking out a short-term, five-year loan.
Taking out a short-term loan would “help catch all the county departments up,” she said, and would give Erb’s finance department some “relief on the county’s general fund.”
“I propose that county commission put together a task force to figure out how we’re going to fund the fire departments long-term,” Frank said.
She further suggested that instead of the county setting up an allocation of money in the budget for the fire departments that officials should “assign a penny or two pennies to the fire department. You’re going to get growth for your fire department as your penny grows.”
Frank recommended the county set up a fire fund specifically for the purpose of funding the fire departments where there would be a set amount of money for each department, which would make it easier for departments to plan how they are going to spend their money.
Ronnie Spitzer, Rocky Top Fire Chief, said knowing in advance how much money the department was going to be getting would prove highly beneficial.
“We would just like to get some numbers,” Spitzer said.
Michael Foster, Rocky Top City Manager, agreed that having a set amount of money for each department is a good idea, and that it would help in cases where the department needed to get a loan to purchase a truck.
The fire department would know how much money the department needed to borrow for a loan and could start making payments ahead of time and pay the truck off faster.
“I like this idea that we’re talking to Tennessee Municipal Bond,” said Dist. 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell. “It makes sense to look at this long-term.”
Wandell then asked Frank what is the county’s overall debt amount, to which Frank replied that it is “roughly $53 million.”
The motion was next made to refer the discussion to the county’s finance committee for further development.