City to stop fighting county fires

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins

UNION CITY, Tenn.--People who have to pay a yearly fee to guarantee firefighters will respond if their house goes up in flames, are learning that very soon they'll have no fire protection at all.
The ongoing county wide controversy commonly called "pay for spray" just took a troubling turn as Union City, Tennessee decided to no longer fight fires outside the city limits.
The mayor admits it's a bold decision affecting nearly 22-hundred people who live outside the city limits.
Interestingly, most of them signed up for fire service and paid their subscription fee.
The city department has responded to county fires for as long as most people can remember but now they're about to stop.
City officials feel a county-city agreement was broken and this is why;
Obion County agreed to oversee the pay for spray database for the seven different fire departments.
The county clerk was put in charge.
But a week ago, she stated she's finished with subscription fire service because she doesn't want to be held liable if someone makes a deadly mistake.
Now no one is collecting fire fees.
Union City leaders said because the county didn't hold up their end of the deal, effective July 1st, their fire trucks will no longer leave city limits.
One mile outside of town Carolyn and David Clift said they've paid the county fire fee for more than a decade.  But today Local 6 informed them of what Union City plans on doing.

"That's bad, that is bad," Carolyn Clift said.

"It would be safer if we just cover the people of Union City until we know for sure what we're doing," Union City Mayor Terry Hailey said.

Hailey said he was shocked when Obion County Clerk Vollie Boehms suddenly quit collecting fire fees, saying she wasn't legally required.

"I'm sure, but you know sometimes you got to step up to the plate and do things you're not required to do, there's a lot of things I do that I'm not legally required to do," Mayor Hailey said.

For now, Hailey said covering the county and depending on a database that no one is updating could be a liability,

The Union City fire chief said he has mixed emotions about the city's decision, in that it's against his very nature to ignore fires, but he also works for the city. He said if that's what the city wants him to do, that's exactly what he'll do.

"I feel sorry for all the residents of the county," County Mayor Benny McGuire said.

McGuire admits something must be done, and quickly.

"If we don't raise taxes and if the cities don't collect subscriptions, we have no fire service," McGuire said.

It's a scary scenario many thought they'd never see.

County commissioners will meet on Monday, May 21st at 9 A.M. to discuss both the county clerk and Union City's recent decisions. The county mayor said commissioners could decide one of two things;  to tax all county residents for fire service or leave the task up to the individual cities, again.
Local 6 asked the Union City mayor if they would even consider collecting the fees on their own, he says he doesn't know.
Local 6 also reached out to County Clerk Vollie Boehms and she declined an interview.

Hornbeak Fire Chief Bob Reavis said his city is waiting until the Monday meeting to make a decision. 
But says they, like Union City, feel like the county didn't hold up their end of the deal.
Union City Mayor Terry Hailey said if you live in the county and are concerned about his city's decision, call your county commissioner and tell them what you'd like to see the county do.

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