Community concerned about reputation after 'pay for spray'

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins

OBION COUNTY, Tenn. — It's happened more than once in recent years and has sparked outrage every time. Neighbors and government officials are now wondering if there is a better way.

The mayor of South Fulton pointed the finger at the county, saying a solution lies with them. The Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire said the current system isn't ideal but he feels it's the best of the three options they have.

The first one is to create a countywide fire department from the ground up. But the mayor said that would be very expensive and would require a significant property tax increase.

Secondly, the county could institute a smaller tax increase and use that money to supplement existing fire departments that would agree to guarantee coverage countywide.

The third option is the current system, known as pay for spray. County residents who want fire protection pay the nearest fire department $75 a year. But no pay equals no spray.

Lots of folks have accepted that last option, but there are still plenty of people who don't like it.

It's happened before and Monday, it happened again.

Firefighters refused to put out a fire because the homeowner didn't pay the $75 rural fire fee.

Neighbor Sheila Fortner worries about South Fulton's reputation in light of pay for spray.

"This really is not how we want to be known, as a community that lets peoples houses go up in smoke," Fortner said.

Last night, South Fulton Mayor David Crocker made it clear since these folks live in the county, it's a county issue.

Tuesday, we asked County Mayor Benny McGuire about that. He told us he's okay with the policy, and doesn't anticipate changes anytime soon.

"To me, it's not an issue. To me it's like car insurance. If you have a car, you pay insurance. If you want protection, you pay the price," McGuire said.

For those outside city limits, that price is $75 a year. There are about 900 homes are in that area and 700 households pay the fee. That equals about $53,000 per year for the fire department.

The South Fulton Fire Chief said that's about a quarter of their annual budget but nearly half of their fires are fought in the rural area. The mayor admitted it's a system that's far from perfect.

"It's the best solution to the problem that we could come up with in the short period of time," McGuire said.

He said any other option would equal a huge increase in taxes.

"If people of this county want a countywide fire department, they're going to have to pay for it and it's going to be very costly," McGuire said.

While Fortner doesn't want more taxes, she also doesn't want her community to get burned by more bad P.R.

"I don't think it's something any of us are proud of," Fortner said. "I know I'm not."

It's not just Fortner worried about the community's reputation. We spoke with a lot of folks off camera who shared her concerns.

The county mayor said folks could expect a 50 percent property tax increase to pay for countywide fire department. He said he seriously doubts that will happen anytime soon because people couldn't handle that much of a tax increase.

Rob Adcock of Northwestern Tennessee Disaster Services said they are taking in donations for Bell and her boyfriend.

You can drop off household goods, food and clothing to the organization's temporary office in Lake Road Plaza.

That's on 1260 East Highway 22 in Union City, Tennessee.

You can also send in checks addressed to Vicky Bell to:

Northwestern Tennessee Disaster Services
Attn: Bell Family Fire
P.O. Box 1458
Union City, Tennessee 38281

If you have any questions, you can call the services headquarters at (731) 592-3947.

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