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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2007
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Rural firefighters upset with proposed Hartselle jurisdiction
Commission chairman says some are displeased by 3-mile fire, police plan

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Several rural volunteer firefighters are unhappy about Hartselle's proposal for a three-mile police and fire jurisdiction, according to the chairman of the Planning Commission.

"They are protective of their jurisdiction, and they feel like Hartselle is trying to take it from them," Jerry Putman said Tuesday.

Putman did not name the firefighters or the departments that called him, but he said the issue is this: If Hartselle adopts the jurisdiction, city firefighters and police officers will be the first responders to emergency calls within the jurisdiction.

"I'm telling you, these volunteers have worked hard, and they are protective of their territory," Putman said.

Hartselle Fire Chief Steve Shelton said he met with volunteer fire chiefs about two weeks ago and none expressed opposition to Hartselle's proposal.

Working together

"We agreed that we would work together as we have in the past," Shelton said. "I received no negative feedback."

Van Geist is president of Morgan County Volunteer Firefighters.

He attended the meeting with Shelton. Geist said fire chiefs agreed at the meeting to work together.

"Our goal is to take care of the community and the people in it," Geist said. "We're going to do the best we can to work with Hartselle."

For about 20 minutes Tuesday, Planning Commission members discussed the proposed jurisdiction before concluding that they could not do anything until the council resolves the matter.

The council has instructed city attorney Larry Madison to start the legal process to establish the police jurisdiction.

But city leaders have not "hashed out" details such as taxation in the district, Councilman Bill Smelser said.

Enough resources?

Smelser, the City Council's representative on the Planning Commission, said he was concerned about the jurisdiction stretching police and fire resources too thin.

Shelton and Police Chief Ron Puckett have said they can handle the jurisdiction without more manpower.

"But I worry that we are watering down our ability to show a presence inside the city limits," Smelser said, "and I still wonder if we're asking them to do more than what they can handle without additional equipment."

Plans to reinstate Hartselle's police jurisdiction grew from an annexation issue.

In November, the commission recommended that the council deny Taylor and Heather Roberts' annexation application because part of the 10.5 acres on Nance Ford Road is not in the planning jurisdiction.

The city went against that recommendation, which led the council-appointed commission to request a meeting to discuss the city's annexation policy.

Idea's origin

During this process, the commission talked about extending Hartselle's planning jurisdiction 11/2 miles.

But, at the same time, the body wanted direction from the council.

That was when the idea of having the same police and planning jurisdiction first surfaced.

State law, however, requires Hartselle's police jurisdiction to be at least three miles.

If Hartselle moves forward with re-establishing its police jurisdiction, council members must then decide which building and taxation codes to enforce.

Enforcement decisions

The council can decide to charge business owners up to half the cost of business licenses inside the city limits and raise sales taxes in the jurisdiction from 7 percent to as much as 8.5 percent.

As for enforcing building regulations in the proposed three-mile district, at least one commission member wants enforcement limited to major subdivisions.

Jeff Johnson of the Department of Development serves also on the Planning Commission.

He said his staff, which includes him and another field inspector, can probably handle approving plans for major subdivisions.

Possible exceptions

But he doesn't want to deal with property division in the district.

If a grandmother, for example, wants to give her grandson an acre, Johnson doesn't want Hartselle to have to approve the transaction.

"Right now, we're doing 50 inspections every month," he said. "I don't think we can take on much more. I'm thinking only major subdivisions should be included for enforcement because they deal with infrastructure."

Smelser said the council will probably discuss the police jurisdiction during its Monday work session.

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