KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knox County Commission is considering a recommendation to create a county-wide fire tax district that would pay for a combined fire department.
The proposed "Knox County Fire Rescue Department" would absorb some services provided by current agencies operating in the county and would work with existing agencies like Rural Metro on a contract basis.
"It doesn't mean that's the route we're going to go," County Commissioner Brad Anders said. "But we have to put everything on the table and this is kind of the starting point for us to do that."
He requested the report by UT's Institute for Public Service which was presented at the county commission meeting Monday.
Its other recommendations include:
- One combined training facility for Rural Metro, Knoxville Fire and other departments in the county.
- Moving responsibility for vehicle extrication to fire departments, away from the Knox County Rescue Squad.
- Consolidating the Rescue Squad with existing services.
- Additional on-duty staffing of firefighters in the county.
- Building and moving various fire stations in the county.
Knox County has paid three million dollars over six years for fire service--which is not deemed an essential service by the state.
"In the amount of service we’re getting, we’re getting a good amount of bang for our buck," Jeff Bagwell, a spokesman for Rural Metro said.
But the lack of funding impacts service.
"We're lagging on some things and what we have is currently not sustainable in funding," Anders said.
The report recommends more staff--as opposed to volunteers--but that costs money.
"The problem is financing. The services and the upgrades have not gone as fast just because of the funding situation," John Linsenbigler, the chief of the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department said.
To free up more funding, the report recommends a fire tax on residents in Knox county.
"This is an actual tax that people would have to pay," Bagwell said. "Even though they understand that it might be saving money and building better future for their kids and everything, they still don't like taxes."
Anders says next steps include meeting with County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and stakeholders, as well as discussions with the community.