The Shelby County Fire Department operates under the authorization contained in Tennessee Code Annotated (“T.C.A.”) Sections 5-16-101, et seq. T.C.A. § 5-16-101 governs Shelby County’s authority to establish and operate urban type public facilities, including, but not limited to, “fire protection and emergency medical services.” Pursuant thereto, Shelby County established the Shelby County Fire Department by resolution adopted in 1972 by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.
The Shelby County and the Shelby County Fire Department provide fire protection and emergency medical services from fire engine apparatus and private ambulance provider to Unincorporated Shelby County and Lakeland. Further, emergency medical dispatching services are made available by the Shelby County Fire Department and private ambulance provider for the Cities of Arlington, and Millington. The provision of fire protection and emergency medical services is funded by fire fees set by the Division of Public Works for the Shelby County Administration as authorized by T.C.A. § 5-16-109(a) which requires the fire fee be determined and charged “upon a basis calculated to ensure the fiscal solvency of the operation [of the Shelby County Fire Department] at all times.” Subsection (b) of that law further provides that the County Administration is “authorized and directed to make and publish reasonable rules and regulations covering the use by any individual, firm or corporation of any … [fire protection and emergency medical services delivered from fire engine apparatus] furnished to users.”
Additional subsidy charges from the contracted ambulance provider may apply to citizens receiving patient treatment or transport from said private ambulance provider.
The following rules of operation are set forth by the Mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee for the purposes of regulating the assessment of fire fees for Improved Properties located within Shelby County and Lakeland served by the Shelby County Fire Department as set forth above. Division 1 of these Rules and Regulations contains the Fire Fee Schedule for Unimproved and Improved Property located within Unincorporated Shelby County and the municipalities serviced within Shelby County.
B. Definitions – For purposes of the Fire Fee Rules and Regulations, the following phrases shall have the meaning so designated:
1. Improved Property. For the purpose of assessing the fire fee pursuant to T.C.A. §5-16-109, and for no other purpose, Improved Property shall be defined as real property upon which a structure with a live utility meter is situated. This shall include residential, commercial, church and agricultural properties where there is a live utility meter.
C. Fire Fee Legality
Shelby County's Fire Department is funded by a system of fire fees collected in the areas that are provided protection. In 1997, the Tennessee Attorney General ruled that the Shelby County government could no longer legally fund any part of the Shelby County Fire Department. That decision was based on the fact that the Fire Department covers only the residences and structures within the unincorporated areas of the county. Today there are standing mutual aid agreements in place with the incorporated areas and the City of Memphis Fire Department should additional assistance be required.
D. Determining the Fee Schedule
Until 2007, the residential fire fee was the same for every home in unincorporated Shelby County. In order to make the fire fee more equitable throughout the response area, a 14-tiered structure based upon square footage has been adopted. High-end digital mapping along with comprehensive square footage records from both the Shelby County Assessor's Office and the Construction Code Enforcement Department were utilized to assure accuracy in billing.
The application of specialized Fire Fees have been applied to commercial properties that present a higher level of danger and therefore consequent additional highly specialized, trained and certified personnel, along with their equipment, to potential scenes where hazardous materials are a part of the response plan during times of emergencies.