After lengthy discussion and hearty citizen disapproval of stripping the volunteer fire department of funding, the commission voted to table the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget appropriations and to approve a continuation budget at 1:28 a.m. on June 18.
The continuation budget was approved by a vote of 21 – 2 and means that all department funding will stay as it is beginning on July 1 until a decision is reached. The appropriations were tabled and will be discussed at the next commission meeting on July.
Commissioner Loren Echols made the motion and said that she was “unable to make clear decisions at 1:23 a.m.”
Discussion had previously turned to the Comer Barn and whether its $3.5 million funding should be removed from the budget in light of the money needed for volunteer fire fighter services.
Budget Chairman Chris Taylor explained this during a shared budget presentation with Finance Director David Lawing.
“One thing to bear in mind when volunteer fire department came up, and that was a tough one, we had slotted $10,000 to $14,000 (each),” Taylor said, but the previously awarded $24,000 was not available due to additional expenses, such as the jail roof and repairs to jail locks.
“I’m going to ask for a one time $450,000 improvement for them, call it a tax increase, call it whatever you want,” he continued.
This was later approved by vote of 19 – 1 with 3 abstaining votes, though where the money would come from was not decided. It would give every volunteer fire department the $24,000 and also leave $130,000 for emergency services to distribute to other stations upon review. Donations and fundraising activities make up the rest of their funding.
Members of the volunteer fire fighting community spoke against this monetary disappearance.
Chris Hinderton is chief at Number 1 Fire Department in Hendersonville.
“I’m here to tell you that each and every volunteer department in this county is doing absolutely the very best they can with limited funds,” he said and then broke down his funding.
Their annual budget is approximately $60,000 and after all expenses are deducted, such as equipment and maintenance, training, utilities and fuel, there is $22,000 left to run on for the year.
Chief Joe McLaughlin of the Cottontown volunteer fire department presented statistical information.
According to McLaughlin, the nine volunteer departments cover 479 of the county’s 543 square miles and protect over $1.1 billion in property values. He also relayed the amount of increasing calls, which last year jumped from 3,894 calls in 2017 to 4,345 in 2018.
“Volunteer firefighters are an essential service in the unincorporated areas of the county,” he said. “As the county continues to grow, calls for service will continue to increase.”
Some attendees also spoke against the barn.
“Please research the details behind the Comer Barn plan; reconsider whether or not this is fiscally responsible,” said Barb Griffith of White House.
“I would also ask why my county government is looking to go in business that will take business away from citizens that you represent,” said Gallatin resident Gina Carpenter.
“You’re affecting the livelihood of my kids,” said Epic Event Center owner and chef, Chris Newton. “I can’t compete.”
Commissioner Billy Geminden is the chair of the ad-hoc committee and disagreed saying that it would hold larger events for fishing tournaments and the like and that Newton could possibly even be called upon to cater.
Another issue voiced by citizens included land purchased by the school board on Tulip Poplar Drive for $8 million.
“When a new school is about to be built and still needs to be staffed and furnished, as well as officially adding another building to that campus, why is the school board purchasing land that they don’t even know what they’re going to do with?” Carpenter questioned.
Additional funding for more student resource officers, the highway department and water lines were also removed from this proposed budget.
Further business for the evening included the reappraisal cycle, which was unanimously passed to be five years. Discussion about the sewer line on Upper Station Camp Creek Rd. took place during that meeting as well and including a presentation by White House Utility District and the engineer. This took up more than half of the evening.