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City water isn't used on county fires

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The county's fire chief says his department does not use Shelbyville hydrants or water when responding to emergency calls.

The issue recently came up during ongoing discussions between the city and its water system over fire hydrant fees that will cost the city almost $140,000 this year.

City manager Jay Johnson says the fee is the highest in middle Tennessee and has taken issue with the fact that charges have never been levied against the county's fire department, noting that the city's water system has hydrants outside Shelbyville's municipal limits.

However, utility general manager David Crowell said those lines outside the city limits are only for consumption purposes, and that the hydrants are used only for flushing, not fire protection.

Johnson said he found that explanation "hard to believe," but county fire chief Mark Thomas said that the water they use is pumped from the Bedford County Utility District, and then hauled by truck to wherever it is needed.

"We have never paid the city for water usage, but we don't use a whole lot of their water either," Thomas explained.

No call volume

Thomas provided the T-G with this year's record of water usage from six different utility systems -- Shelbyville, Bedford County, Wartrace, Bell Buckle, Flat Creek and Normandy -- explaining that they don't use much city water at all.

For example, in October Bedford County Fire Department used just 50 gallons of water from Shelbyville, but pumped 13,800 gallons from the county's utility district, as well as 250 gallons from Wartrace.

The majority of the water used by the county's department comes from Bedford County.

Thomas said that one of the few areas that has city lines outside Shelbyville's limits is in the Riverbend Country Club subdivision "and we don't get any calls out there at all...I can't tell you the last time they had a fire out there."

Most calls from the country club area are false alarms, Thomas said.

There are other areas in the county where the city's lines extend, such as on U.S. 41A South, or the locations where the county and city sometimes share water.

But most of their call volume is in the Unionville area, or areas around Wartrace or Bell Buckle.

"We just don't use that much city water, and the hydrants where they're at, we don't have a call volume there to start with," Thomas said.

Lacks pressure

The county did use some 14,050 gallons of city water in July, however, Thomas explained that was used for watering down the track at the Bedford County Agriculture Center.

"You'll see some spikes throughout the year, but it all depends on what going on at the fairgrounds," Thomas said.

Thomas said they do not put any demands on the utility districts to put hydrants in, and accepts where they are placed, explaining those hydrants are for gravity flow only, meaning they can not pump off the city's lines since they do not have the required pressure.

The county fire chief said the amount of water they use each year from the city "wouldn't be enough to fill a swimming pool," which averages around 18,000 gallons.

Disagreements remain

Crowell explained to the T-G Friday that the hydrant fee has been charged to the city of Shelbyville since the 1940s, "ever since there has been a water system" and noted that the current rate of $10.30 per hydrant came into effect at the first of 2010.

But Johnson noted in comments to the water board earlier this week that by the utility's own records, the average annual cost per hydrant for materials is $45.43 a year, or $3.79 a month.

Maintenance and paint costs for the hydrants are $24.28 per year or $2.02 per month, according to the water system's records.

"I really question the labor costs shown for hydrant flushing at $68,233 a year," Johnson said. "That is $60.75 per year per hydrant."

Johnson also told the water board that "it is simply unreasonable to charge the city a fee, and not charge county government for the same services," saying he intends to inform the mayor and city council about the issue.