published Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Bradley schedules Monday vote on fire merger

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — It’s time to vote yes or no on a proposed Cleveland and Bradley County fire department merger and move on, according to County Commissioner Mel Griffith.

He placed the proposed merger of the city and county fire departments, county emergency medical service and county rescue service on the agenda for Monday.

The outcome of a recent city and county task force report shows the merger is financially unworkable, said Griffith.

But Commissioner Bill Winters said he would like to see a 45- or 90-day delay and continue a dialogue with the city.

Griffith said the city and county agreed on Jan. 18 that there would be a vote on June 20.

“Let’s finally end the uncertainty and confusion,” Griffith said.

Griffith represents the rural 6th District in southern Bradley County. Winters is elected from the 7th District, which is inside the Cleveland city limits.

Currently the county pays the city $1.8 million annually for fire service in a five-mile area of each city fire station. The county has been expanding its fire department for several years, aiming at countywide, full-time service.

“I personally feel like there is room for dialogue,” Winters said at Monday’s commission work session. “No one person in my district has said it is not a good idea.”

Griffith said the issue has been studied and debated for 19 years. The county already had a plan to develop a full-time countywide service, he said, until new commissioners asked for the just-concluded task force study.

The task force concluded that a merged department would cost $17 million to $19 million.

“The answer is obvious. It is not financially feasible to merge with the city,” Griffith said. “You might as well accept that. You can jigger the figures all you want to, but you can’t get away from that.”

“The folks in the city need to be happy with what they’ve got and quit finagling with our fire protection and let us get good protection,” Griffith said.

The Cleveland City Council meets June 15. Its agenda currently does not include a fire merger vote.

Contact Randall Higgins at rhiggins@timesfreepress.com or 423-314-1029.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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