East Ridge and Ridgeside officials met Thursday afternoon in a workshop at City Hall to discuss a potential new agreement between the cities for fire and police protection.
East Ridge has long provided the service to the small land-locked community about four miles north of the city. During the early 2000s, East Ridge provided public safety protection for about $25,000. In 2009, after the city and Ridgeside renegotiated the contract, that amount increased to about $95,000.
In recent months, Councilman Jacky Cagle has questioned if East Ridge is getting the short end of the deal. Cagle maintains that East Ridge is not charging Ridgeside enough to cover the costs of officers patrolling Ridgeside and for firefighters to run medical calls to the enclave of about 415 people. During a discussion of the issue at a recent City Council meeting, Cagle said he would like to see the contract increased in price by 50 percent.
Ridgeside Mayor Janet Jobe told officials during the workshop that the contract with East Ridge was the single biggest budget item that Ridgeside has. Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt said the fire and police budget in East Ridge (about $5.2 million) is the largest budget item in our city as well.
Interim City Manager Mike Williams explained that the contract was based on populations of both cities. A document that was disseminated during the meeting showed that East Ridge (population 21,382) citizens paid $247 a year for fire and police protection. Under the current contract, Ridgeside (population 415) citizens were paying $230 per person for fire and police.
According to East Ridge officials calls for police service in Ridgeside went up from 199 in 2014 to 289 in 2015, an increase of about 45 percent. Fire Department calls for service increased from 26 calls in 2014 to 35 last year, 35 percent jump.
Rideside officials wanted to know how many times a day police officers patrolled their city. That figure was unclear. ERPD Chief J.R. Reed said officers patrolled a couple times a shift. That was disputed by Ridgeside officials who believe that figure is perhaps a couple times a day.
East Ridge officials said they would try and provide more accurate information and account for ERPD patrols in Ridgeside.
Officials from both cities reviewed potential increases in the price of the contract. A seven percent increase would bring the amount that Ridgeside pays East Ridge up to $102,545, or $247 per citizen.
Mayor Jobe said that at one time Ridgeside was provided with a quarterly comprehensive breakdown of the types of calls ERPD was answering.
“If there is a false alarm (home security system) we can address that an maybe alleviate some of that.” she said.
Jobe said that the increase in fire calls last year was in large part due medical calls to a resident that was having numerous seizures. That person has subsequently moved. Jobe believes medical calls will decrease.
Mayor Brent Lambert said he was cognizant of the fact that Ridgeside’s lone tax revenue source is property taxes. East Ridge can increase its revenues through increased sales taxes as more businesses thrive in the city.
“There is no way for (Ridgeside) to grow their funds,” Lambert said. “It comes straight out of residents’ pockets.”
Ridgeside Commissioner Kurt Faires said he appreciated East Ridge for providing fire and police service to his city. He reasoned that if the service was based on the number of homes and not population, the contract price would be high. If it’s based on population, it’s a little low.
Cagle said additional costs are not calculated into the formula such as detectives investigating burglaries. He said he would like to see in a future agreement East Ridge charge Ridgeside an additional 20 percent for fire and police protection.