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Bradley County, Tenn., ambulance is backed into Station 1 on Paul Huff Parkway.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- A Bradley County Commission discussion about fuel and maintenance costs for the county's ambulance and fire departments quickly evolved into a forum on the county's relationship with the city of Cleveland.

In a recent meeting, County Commissioner Thomas Crye ignited the conversation after sharing concerns over how much Cleveland charges for fuel and upkeep for the county's emergency vehicles, which amounts to about $400,000 annually.

The city now charges a 30 percent markup on parts, a $67-per-hour labor rate and a 20-cents-per-gallon fuel processing fee, Crye said.

Crye asked that the county explore the possibility of consolidating fuel and vehicle maintenance services with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office as a way of reducing those costs.

The savings could be contributed to the debt service associated with the county's $12 million commitment to a proposed overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School, he said.

Commissioner Dan Rawls suggested that the county first attempt to renegotiate the service agreement with Cleveland.

"Now, if they're not willing to do any negotiating, then we're back to square one, but at least we made an attempt," he said. "If they don't reduce it, it's definitely not in our best interest."

Crye's recommendation likely will be perceived as another "shot across the bow" toward the Cleveland City Council, made in response to the city's recent consideration of creating its own ambulance service within the Cleveland Fire Department, Bradley County Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber said.

Losing revenues generated by ambulance calls originating within city limits is expected to make a major impact on Bradley County's Emergency Medical Service, county leaders said.

"I think them [Cleveland City Council members] deciding that they want to do their own ambulance service is just to get back at us," Commissioner Howard Thompson said. "I'm sure of that, because our ambulance service is one of the best in the country."

Thompson also cited the city's ambulance study, which projected that a city ambulance service would require government subsidizing.

Instead of Cleveland and Bradley County moving their relationship 20 years backward it is time to "do the right thing," Yarber said.

"Where other areas are consolidating in every area they can, we seem to break off in every area we can, instead of working together," he said.

Crye and Thompson left no doubt about their feelings on Bradley County's relationship with Cleveland.

"I'm a firm believer in consolidation of services," Crye said. "I believe in hugging, loving, smooching and all that stuff, but when I get the feeling that I'm being sexually abused, I get agitated."

The relationship is not a two-way affair, Thompson said.

"They don't want to work with us, but they want us to work with them," he said.

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

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