published Monday, August 18th, 2014

Bradley County firefighter incentives to be considered

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A proposal to reward Bradley County firefighters with more pay for achieving higher levels of training is under consideration.

In a recent meeting, Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Yarber announced intentions to keep the proposal in play with the current commission instead of waiting until new commissioners take office in September, as had been recommended by the Bradley County Finance Committee.

"Right now our firefighters have no incentive to strive for EMT or hazmat training," said Yarber. "They have no motivation to stay."

Yarber described the incentive proposal submitted by Fire Chief Troy Maney as a creative "good faith effort."

The plan also received support from Commissioner Jeff Morelock, who said the bonus plan was a token way to bridge the $9,500 gap in starting pay between county and Cleveland firefighters.

A key issue with implementing the incentive program now -- which would cost $50,000 initially -- is "a matter of timing as much as anything," said Commissioner Ed Elkins, chairman of the Finance Committee.

Approving the pay plan now would mean borrowing money to pay for it in the short term, said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, and the plan will be an ongoing expense.

"Overall, it's not a one-time expense," Davis said. "It's almost like a salary increase that can grow and snowball with increasing ongoing expenses."

Without corresponding increases in revenue, it would become a challenge, he said.

"It's pretty basic math," said Elkins.

Another concern of such a long-term commitment is that future costs of the program are unknown as more firefighters qualify for incentives, said Commissioner Mel Griffith.

Yarber countered that a worst-case scenario could be calculated by determining the number of firefighters and the maximum amount in incentives they could earn.

Leaving the issue to the future commission was "passing the buck," said Yarber.

Commissioner Bill Winters commended Maney for his approach to using incentives to improve training and retention of Bradley County firefighters.

However, salary concerns are not limited to Bradley County Fire & Rescue, he said.

"We have multiple departments with similar problems, such as the planning department and law enforcement," said Winters. "We have a revenue problem."

Commissioners discussed whether an increase in taxes would be needed to fund the incentive program.

It would only require a 1-cent bump to county fire tax rates to pay for the program, said Morelock.

Fire taxes, which are included in property tax statements, fund the county fire department.

"I prefer creative ways as opposed to tax increases," said Yarber.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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