The ongoing dispute between the City of Metter and Candler County regarding the purchase of Metter Fire-Rescue’s Engine 3 could be resolved should the City agree to the County’s proposal.
The issue surrounds the purchase of the $370,000 fire truck by the City in 2018 while the City and County were in the middle of Service Delivery Strategy negotiations.
Under the SDS agreement, which was approved after the fire truck was purchased, the County will have representation on a Fire Board to discuss capital purchases and to review the annual operating budget of the fire department. The agreement stipulates that the County pays 50 percent of the fire department’s operating budget and 50 percent of capital outlay expenses.
Regarding Engine 3, however, the conflict comes because the engine was ordered before the new SDS was adopted. The County has taken the stance that the old agreement would apply to the new engine, while the City’s stance is that the new agreement would apply.
The County has maintained that since they had no input in the purchasing decision, they should not make a payment.
This stance was presented to the City during both the FY2020 and FY2021 budget seasons. In 2019, the City made no response to the County’s letter stating they would not pay for the fire truck. However, the County sent a similar letter in June of 2019, to which the City issued a response in October.
In October’s letter, City Manager Carter Crawford said that if the County did not pay their half of the fire truck, the County would be in breach of the SDS agreement. The options the County had, Crawford said, were to pay for the engine and fire radios, opt out of the fire services agreement within 30 days of receiving the approved budget from the city, or revoke the SDS agreement with 12 months written notice.
On Jan. 6 of this year, Crawford sent a proposal to the County stating that the City would 1)pay for the fire radios, another area of contention, 2)grant a water bill reduction on irrigation at the recreation department and 3)accept ownership and liability of the industrial park pond, but that the County would have to pay its share of the purchase cost of Engine 3.
On Monday night, Commissioners voted to submit a counterproposal to the City for consideration that they feel would resolve the issue once and for all. The terms of that proposal are as follows:
• The City will adopt a resolution acknowledging that the 2018 SDS Fire Agreement requires County approval prior to any capital purchase for which the County will have obligation for payment.
• The City pays for any and all fire radio equipment previously purchased.
• The County will pay a capital stipend of $36,620 per year for fiscal years FY2021-FY2025 to the City of Metter. This stipend will extinguish any and all claimed capital obligation of the County for any fire equipment purchased prior to Jan. 1, 2021. The stipend agreement shall only be in force if neither party opts out of the SDS agreement for fire services.
• The City will adopt a resolution authorizing the County to dig a well at the Metter-Candler Recreation Department for the purpose of providing irrigation to the fields.
• The City will accept ownership of the industrial park pond.
30 days to respond
In Tuesday’s letter to the City, County Administrator Bryan Aasheim writes, “This offer for settlement is non-negotiable and will be valid for 30 days from today, terminating on March 17, 2021.”
As discussion began, Commissioner Blake Hendrix stated his support of the County funding half of the cost of the fire truck itself, but not any of the financing cost.
“I am in favor of paying half of the fire truck without interest ... because (the City) did not give us a chance to pay our part up front,” Hendrix said. Interest over the span of the financing is roughly $90,000, according to Aasheim.
Commissioner Brad Jones, who has been against the County paying any portion of the fire truck’s cost because the purchase was approved without any County input, said, “But in the midst of all of this, if this gets done, the City needs to understand that if anything else gets purchased, it has got to be approved by this board before a capital outlay is made. This board is trying to resolve this issue with the City so we can move forward.”
While applauding the dedication and professionalism of the City fire department, Jones added, “I am not saying anything against them for that; it’s just that there were decisions that were made that we didn’t know anything about.”
Commissioners agreed that a back and forth proposal and counter proposal with the City would not benefit any entity, so added the stipulation that the County’s proposal had to be approved within 30 days.
The motion passed 4-1, with Jones voting against it.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” he said after the vote, “but I’m not voting for it.” To Hendrix he said, “ I appreciate you moving forward with this so we can resolve this with the City.”