CLINTON — Clinton City Council’s regular Thursday night meeting Dec. 12 was a chance to both wrap up the 2020 budget for the city, as well as providing an opportunity to review Clinton Fire Department operations.

Fire Department operations were an unexpected topic as Councilwoman Gayla Bradley asked Fire Chief D.L. Webb about the department’s policies in responding to fire calls outside its service area. Choctaw was used as an example in Bradley’s question.

Webb said the department doesn’t have an automatic aid agreement with other departments in the area. That is, when a fire department is dispatched, Clinton is not automatically called out to assist.

To assist, Webb explained, a department has to specifically request Clinton Fire’s assistance. The department has never refused a request for assistance, Webb said, including having responded to requests from (as was the example in Bradley’s question) Choctaw in the past.

As the discussion continued, Webb said the reasons for not having automatic aid have to do with staffing an equipment issues. On a given day, he explained, the department has roughly 10 volunteers it can expect in responding to a fire. If those same volunteers were automatically called out to an outlying area in an automatic-response metric, it has the potential to leave Clinton without enough people on hand to respond to any in-town emergencies.

In an after-meeting interview, Webb said the department currently has 24 members, and is limited by its bylaws to a maximum of 47 members. The problem would be in an automatic-aid environment, the department would also need additional equipment in order to support additional firefighters.

Volunteer fire departments throughout the region have expressed frustration with finding new members. Earlier this year Holley Mountain Fire Department restructured to become part of Burnt Ridge fire, citing lack of volunteers as one of its issues in maintaining efficiency.

Webb also explained to the council that automatic aid, and its risk of impacting the number of people responding to a given emergency, could further impact the department’s ISO rating.

Clinton Fire is currently at ISO 4 rating, and was “two points off [ISO] 3,” Webb said. Lack of volunteers on hand could raise the department’s ISO rating, which would directly impact what Clinton residents pay for fire insurance.

Automatic Aid would also raise expenses for department operation, the council was told, with Councilman Shon Hastings pointing out that Clinton Fire’s 70 calls per year could easily go up to 150 in an automatic aid environment.

“It sounds like we’re [Clinton] set up like we need to be,” Councilman Jeff Pistole said.

Other council members supported this stance, with Councilman Tim Barnes reminding all that Clinton Fire had not failed to respond when asked to requests by other departments.

The 2020 budget was also passed by the council.

The budget ran fairly close to the 2019 budget, with the biggest change coming from moving a part-time employee to full time at the Recycling Center.

City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac said the employee would also work with the Street and Parks department crew as needed.

Relative to this, city employees received a 50 cent per hour raise in the 2020 budget.

McCormac said a big emphasis in the coming year would be on roads in the city, specifically pointing out Volunteer Parkway, the road running between Walmart and the Post Office, as being a high priority for repair and refurbishment.

Cleanup, McCormac said, would also be emphasized, here pointing out properties along Highway 65 and the School Hill areas could expect attention.

The council had amended and otherwise clarified zoning regulations regarding keeping up property earlier in the year.

McCormac, in his address to the council at the meeting end, said that streets and emergency services would be his two big points of emphasis for 2020.

In other council matters:

Animal Control reported 2 dogs and zero cats taken in for November, calling it “a slow month.” McCormac told the council that money was being used from the sewer expansion to provide a grinder pump for the shelter, to replace the current pump which is being overtaxed and prone to failure. This was part of the city’s agreement to participate in the shelter, McCormac said.

City of Clinton Police Chief John Willoughby told the council the department continues its patrolling for speeders, especially on Highway 65. It had also been called out to clear debris from the Highway road surface several times, he said.

The Street Department was doing some work on the road leading to the Sale Barn, department head Charles Wilson told the council.

Water Department head Will Hinchey told the council that any department customers concerned about the rate increase voted in earlier and due to go into effect on the January billing cycle could call his department to find out what their forthcoming bill would be.

The department had recently found, and repaired “two big leaks” in Dennard, which had led to a 54% water loss for November for that area, Hinchey said.

Phillilp Ellis is leaving his position with City of Clinton Zoning. McCormac thanked Ellis for all his work for the city, including planning and organizing tourist friendly-events.

The council completed the passage of restoring the A&P (Advertising and Promotions) tax rate from 2% to 3%, first read into the record at its previous meeting.

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