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Rural Metro’s Harnish offers rate justification


Rural Metro fire chief Jerry Harnish explained Rural Metro’s rates to Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen Thursday, Oct. 8.

“No one wants to pay increasing costs for fire protection or any other thing,” Harnish said.

“What’s going on in Farragut is a microcosm of the state and the country as a whole,” he added.


Rural Metro operates in Farragut through property contracts or subscriptions, meaning individual property owners can contract with the company. If a non-contracted home or business catches fire, Rural Metro bills that property owner on an hourly rate.

Contracts are based on how large a building is.

Response times to an emergency are the same regardless of a structure’s size, Harnish said, but the bigger a home, the more time an engine is normally on the scene.

In a comparison, Harnish said Rural Metro’s rates were lower than in surrounding areas. For a 1,500 to 2,000 square foot home, RM’s monthly rate was $225. In Shelby County, which also provides service through a property contract, rates are $325.

“While Shelby County imposes a property contract, the way we do here, it’s not voluntary,” Harnish said.

“It’s collected through the water bill for the utility district,” he added.

In Knoxville, which provides service through a property tax, rates can be calculated to about $350.

“We’re doing well, or at least a lot better than our peer groups,” Harnish said.

From 2003 to 2008, Rural Metro costs increased 14 percent per capita versus a 29 percent increase in the United States. The median increase this year was 6 percent.

“[This] is considerable, considering it’s been running about 3 percent per year, but that is being driven largely by the recession itself,” Harnish said.

“That’s being translated into increased costs for unemployment, worker’s compensation, and that gets passed along to us,” he added.

Rural Metro runs lean, Harnish said, which meant that when the economy was bad, there was really no room to cut costs.

“When this happens, we don’t have any fat to trim,” Harnish said.

In addition, Rural Metro often responds in situations in which funds are never recoverable.

“We do have a number of emergencies that ultimately are uncollectible,” Harnish said, giving for example the fire off Tedford Road last year that burned for nearly eight weeks.

Harnish later gave two numbers for customers wishing to contact Rural Metro. Customer service is 865-675-3434. Complaints go straight to Harnish, at 865-389-1019.

 

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