fire truck

Two Marshall County Volunteer fire departments have filed lawsuits and open records requests as ways to recoup money they say they are owed. 

The County Commission passed a resolution this week pledging to use the 5% administrative fee collected from the county’s fire district fees to assist the Revenue Commissioner’s office with software, hardware, personnel or other needs related to collecting the fire district fees.

It was a move apparently aimed at keeping the Commission out of a lawsuit filed against the Revenue Commissioner’s office over the collection of those fees. Two fire departments, Georgia Mountain and FourC, have sued Revenue Commissioner Michael Johnson alleging that fire district fees have not been collected properly.

The County Commission was named in the original lawsuit, but was dismissed from it. But based on carefully selected words of county attorney Clint Maze in the Commission meeting, it appeared that there was a threat they could be included again.

When asked by Johnson what the urgency was in adding the resolution to the agenda so quickly, Maze said he would have to call for an executive or private session to discuss pending litigation if the Commission wanted to explain it.

He said the resolution being approved by the Commission was not an effort to take sides in the lawsuit, but merely a statement of support for the Revenue Commissioner in collecting the fee.

It is possible that the new support could help lead to some answers sought by the firefighters, although that wasn’t specifically mentioned in Wednesday’s Commission meeting. At the heart of the lawsuit is a request for information from the firefighters. They filled an Open Records Law request before filing the lawsuit asking for tax office financial records pertaining to the fire district fire.

Johnson countered that the reason it had not been met was because the Open Records Law prohibits public funds from being used to meet an Open Records request. He has said previously it would take $2,000 to

$6,000 to meet the firefighters’ request.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Johnson estimated that $120,000 to $130,000 had been collected in administrative fees related to the fire district since 2013.

Since the fire district law passed in 2013, communities approving the fire district fee, according to Maze and the county resolution, have included Georgia Mountain, FourC, Hebron, Waterfront, Pleasant Grove, Nixon Chapel, Grant, Douglas and Ruth.

The fire district fee is $5 per month and is collected as part of the annual property tax assessment.

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