County Commissioners unanimously agreed on Monday to fund one half of the operating budget of Metter Fire Rescue for Fiscal Year 2020. However, the motion was made following much discussion by commissioners regarding the Service Delivery Strategy agreement between the city and county governing fire protection.

The issue has garnered much more discussion since the SDS agreement was adopted in 2018 because, for the first time, the commissioners are actually presented with two budgets for consideration -- an operating budget and a capital budget.

On Sept. 11, the city adopted their FY2020 budget with a budgeted payment of over $298,000 from the county under the terms of the Service Delivery Strategy between the city and county regarding fire protection. Under the agreement, each entity is to pay 50 percent of the operating budget of the fire department.

As County Administrator Bryan Aasheim pointed out on Monday evening, some discrepancies in the city’s budget and the county’s have led him to recommend that commissioners approve $292,589, which would account for the differences in his figures and the city’s. 

Talk then turned to the capital budget for the department, which includes lease payments for the new Engine 3 as well as payments for radios for the fire department, two key issues that have been debated by the commissioners in the past.

As discussion proceeded, Chair Glyn Thrift made a motion to give notice to the city that the county would opt out of the fire agreement. “We can give the city two years’ notice that we might be in the fire business ourselves,” he said in making the motion.

Commissioner David Robinson seconded and the motion went up for discussion.

In that discussion, Commissioner Brad Jones spoke of the capital budget issues he continues to oppose.

“It’s pretty plain and simple I made a comment in the paper months ago that a) we are not buying a fire truck and b) we are not buying radios,” he said. “We bought the radio system for public safety for Candler County to allow us to have coverage in the county. A, I don’t think we should have to fund the fire department for the radios they paid for to talk on that system. The county has enough obligations in our radio system that we provide for the citizens in our county. B, the fire truck was purchased prior to our Service Delivery Strategy negotiations and I cannot see paying for something that was bought and then asking me to pay for it.”

Jones then addressed Fire Chief Jason Douglas who was in attendance saying that if the city had approached the county about the fire engine first, then he would not have opposed the purchase.

However, Jones stressed, “I am not jumping up and down about being in the fire business. All you are going to do eventually is take the fire department we have in the city and split it in half.”

Commissioner Blake Hendrix concurred, adding, “Someway, somehow, we need to be Metter-Candler Fire Department and not two. I think two is a waste of money.”

While Jones agreed with Hendrix’s remarks, he said, “But I also don’t want to pay for something that we weren’t asked for up front.”

After hearing discussion, Robinson rescinded his motion to opt out of the fire agreement with the city.

Commissioners then approved paying one half of the fire department’s operating budget of $292,589, based on Aasheim’s calculations.

Talk then turned to the capital outlay budget and the city’s request that the county pay $60,280.

Jones made a motion to pay $24,280, less than half of what the city requested.

In his motion, Jones recommended that the county pay their portion of the annual payment for the brush truck, $4,780; thermal imaging camera, $4500; and hydraulic tools, $15,000. He also recommended the county not pay for the fire engine annual payment or for the radio system.

After confirming with Douglas that purchase of the brush truck was approved after SDS was adopted, Jones said, “I vote we leave the brush truck in because a good portion of the time that particular brush truck tends to calls in the city and county. That brush truck, hauling 1,000 gallons of water, can get to a scene faster than tanker hauling 3,000 gallons of water.”

Approval of Jones’ motion was unanimous by commissioners.

Now City Council will have to account for the decreased payment for capital improvements.

According to Interim City Manager Carter Crawford, “The City will have to determine what City revenues and expenses will have to be reduced in order to fund the shortage of $36,000. The City may have to reduce future SPLOST projects to make up the shortfall.”

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