2012 Public Act Chapter 771 § 1 codified into law the renaming of “Fire Taxes” and “Fire Taxing Districts” to “Fire and Emergency Services Taxes” and “Fire and Emergency Services Districts” to reflect what they were originally intended to cover. According to Representative Phillip Johnson, “All we did was clarify what the tax already was.” Haven’t I been saying that? Isn’t that what I have been telling the county all along, that the fire tax was for the purpose of covering the services contemplated in, enumerated in, and contained in TCA 5-17-102? Haven’t I been telling the county that all emergency services provided by the county are part of the county wide fire department that was established for the purpose of providing fire protection services to all of Wilson County? Finally, FINALLY, someone of authority did something brilliant. They codified in law that the districts and taxes are meant for “Emergency Services” and not just “Fire Suppression.”
TCA 5-17-101 says, in pertinent part:
(2) As an alternative to fire and emergency services tax districts, the county legislative body is hereby authorized to allocate revenue from the general fund of the county to fund fire protection services to be provided to the unincorporated portions of the county. Any such revenues allocated for fire protection services shall be generated by situs-based taxes collected in unincorporated areas of the county or shall originate from other revenue sources that have already been shared with municipalities;
Here is the problem that the county is going to have. First of all, it will be ever more difficult for them to convince a judge that the general assembly never really meant for the county wide fire department to include ambulance, rescue, and first aid, and that those services are authorized under TCA 58-2-101 et seq now that this law has been passed. Clearly it was the intent of the general assembly to provide emergency services other than just fire suppression as a part of the countywide fire department. The second thing is that, once they have to accept that all emergency services are part of the countywide fire department, they will not be able to cover the costs of those services using the alternative form of funding authorized in TCA 5-17-101. If they can’t cover those costs with the alternative form of funding, they will have to levy fire and emergency services taxes. That requires that they establish districts so as to closely reflect the costs of services provided in a district.
Fire and Emergency Services Taxes are the only legal way that Wilson County can provide emergency services on the level and scale that they are providing them because they simply cannot find enough alternative forms of funding to pay for them.
Fire and Emergency Services Taxes are one of the most fair forms of taxes I have ever heard of, yet some don’t want them. They would rather continue to have the rest of us subsidize Lebanon’s Ambulance Services. You see, Lebanon receives so much ambulance service at county expense that it offset all of the costs of fire suppression provided to this city and still leaves a net balance in Lebanon’s favor. It isn’t Mt. Juliet that is the problem after all, Mt. Juliet pays for more services than we are provided. Lebanon is the problem. Lebanon receives substantially more services than that for which they pay.
This new law, for whatever reasons it was sponsored and approved, is a Godsend.