This year the General Assembly passed a bill to provide a new method of funding fire protection services for county governments. The bill [Senate Bill 508 (Burks)/ House Bill 436 (Curtiss)] amends Title 5, chapter 17 of the Tennessee Code. It passed the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor on May 12, 1999, as Public Chapter 125 of the Public Acts of 1999.
Prior to this act, the law provided that counties could create fire tax districts and levy a fire tax upon the residents of those districts to fund the services they receive. The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office had opined on a number of occasions that counties could only fund fire protection services through one of three methods: levying a fire tax upon a district that includes either all or part of the county; making charitable donations to support volunteer fire departments; or, contracting with a city to provide the service. Therefore, if the county wanted to provide the services itself or wanted to hire county employees to coordinate or assist with fire protection purposes, it had to fund those activities through a fire tax, which proved to be an unpopular or unworkable option in many communities.
Under Public Chapter 125, the county is now authorized to fund fire protection services for the unincorporated portions of the county with general fund revenues so long as the revenues come from one of the following sources: (1) the revenues were generated by situs based taxes collected in the unincorporated areas; (2) the revenues come from sources that have already been shared with municipalities (e.g. TVA in lieu of tax payments); or (3) the revenues came from contributions made to the county.
The Division of County Audit of the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury is currently reviewing this legislation to determine the best way to structure this use of funds. If your county is interested in taking advantage of this new funding mechanism for fire protection services, contact the CTAS County Government Consultant for your region.
In addition to the changes regarding funding of fire services, an amendment added to this bill also transferred the authority to appoint the county fire chief from the county legislative body to the county executive, subject to the confirmation of the legislative body.