JASPER, Tenn. -- Among the deep cuts in the recently approved 2011-12 Marion County budget, rural volunteer fire departments lost all of the approximately $193,000 the county had been giving them annually to operate.
County Mayor John Graham, who was appointed to the position last December, said that when he got into office and saw the financial mess the county was in, he only knew one thing to do.
"Let's see where we can cut," he said. "We did [cut]. We cut everything we could."
Bobby Ambrester, a volunteer with the Sweetens Cove Fire Department, said he hates the way things are in the county and fears the cuts will force many of the small departments to close.
"It never matters when the phone rings, those firefighters get up and go," he said. "What will be bad is when that phone rings, and it just keeps ringing."
Ambrester said many county residents are upset with the cuts to the fire departments, and he's one of them.
"We've got to work our way through this," he said. "A lot of people are not going to like this, but we're going to have to bite the bullet."
Edna Fults, a volunteer with the Foster Falls Fire Department, chastised board members at a recent special meeting and said the commissioners should "be ashamed of forcing the volunteer firefighters to fend for themselves."
Ambrester said the rural departments won't last long without aid from the county because they won't be able to afford insurance or worker's compensation coverage.
"These are things that are mandated by the state, or they cease to be a fire department," he said.
If some of the departments close, officials said, the areas they cover would lose their Insurance Services Office ratings.
Ambrester said that would cause residents' insurance costs to go "sky high."
Officials said they will examine the possibility of getting a cheaper price on the departments' insurance by purchasing it through a countywide association of firefighters.
Commission Chairman Gene Hargis, who also is an investigator with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, said he doesn't think the cuts will be permanent.
"I've always done anything I could for the fire departments, and I appreciate the job they've done," he said. "I'm there with [them] a lot of times. Once we get this budget squared away, we're going to try to get the money back in there [for them.]"
Officials said the board's Finance Committee will meet this week to discuss the issue.
Ambrester said he has a simple message for the board.
"Don't forget us," he said. "As soon as it can work out, help us. We really need the assistance."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.