Who’s paying? City, county remain at odds over fire truck

Metter Fire-Rescue’s Engine 3.

 Service Delivery Strategy agreements were adopted by the City of Metter, Candler County and the Town of Pulaski in June of 2018, shortly after the city ordered a new engine for Metter Fire-Rescue.

The timing of that order and the signing of the SDS agreement have caused the two entities to be at odds over whether the county is responsible for annual payments on the fire engine. 

 The new truck, a KME 2000 GPM commercial rescue pumper, came in at a cost of $368,496 and was ordered on April 11, 2018, by the city. The truck was delivered in May of 2019.

A year ago, during Fiscal Year 2020 discussions, the county told city officials that they would not pay on the city’s fire engine payment or on the cost of radios for the city fire department.

The city did not respond to the county’s refusal to pay in FY2020 - and no payment was made. In June of this year, during FY2021 budget talks, the county commission again informed the city that the county would make payments on the brush truck as in FY20, but again would not pay on the fire engine or the radios.

It was almost four months after that letter was sent to the city that the city issued a response.

The issue was brought before commissioners during their regular meeting on Nov. 2 after County Administrator Bryan Aasheim received the city’s reply on Oct. 13.

The letter, from City Manager Carter Crawford, dated Oct. 13, was in response to Aasheim’s letter to the city dated June 23.

In that June letter, Aasheim wrote, “Per our discussion with Jason Douglas and the submitted budget documentation, the total approved FY2021 operating budget for the fire department was $589,879.20, exclusive of two line-items for capital lease. The expected unincorporated county portion of that is $294,939.60 ...

“The fire department’s capital budget request as submitted included five (5) line items for a total of $53,219. However, Captain Douglas informed us that the SCBA ($6,000) and Structural Fire Gear ($6,000) should be removed from the capital request due to a lack of funding. The removal of those items left the Brush 2 Truck payment ($4,774), Engine 3 Truck payment ($25,554) and Fire Radios payment ($10,891). As you are aware, the Commission maintains the position that it has no responsibility for payment on Engine 3 and the fire department radios. As such, the Commission elected to approve a total fire capital budget of $4,774 for the Brush Truck 2 payment.”

In the Oct. 13 response, Crawford stated that Engine 3 was added to the city’s capital budget in 2018, before SDS’s intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) were approved but that county participation in the payment of the engine was understood.

“... the Engine Truck Payment was not exempted from the IGA even though its imminent inclusion in the capital budget for Fiscal Year 2018 was known at the time. Rather, this item was purchased by Metter based on a loan schedule that amortized the cost over a period of years. Moreover, Metter determined that this purchase was intended to serve the countywide fire system

“Regarding the radios, this purchase was prompted by the County’s decision to transition to a new radio system. Therefore, the County’s decision was the predicate reason for this expense. Moreover, Metter has determined that this purchase was intended to serve the countywide fire system.

“The IGA does not contemplate the County piecemealing the Fire Budget in a given  year - especially when it comes to long-term recurring payments incurred each year over a given number of years.

“The IGA further provides that the City of Metter has the sole authority regarding the day-to-day operations of the Fire Department and ‘Metter shall determine what equipment it needs to properly operate its Fire Department so that it can provide adequate fire and rescue services to all areas of Candler County.’

“For that reason, the County’s input in the budgetary process does not expand to a decision by the County regarding the necessity of any equipment Metter determined necessary to ‘... properly operate its fire department so that it can provide adequate fire and rescue services to all areas of Candler County.’”

Crawford then stressed that the county had three options: 1) approve the budgeted expenditures for Engine 3 and radio payments; 2) opt out of the IGA for fire services within 30 days of receiving the ‘approved budget from the city’ or 3) revoke the IGA with 12 months written notice.

“Since the County did not choose one of the three options, it is in breach of the IGA. Accordingly, please indicate whether the county intends to cure this breach.”

During the Nov. 2 commission meeting, Aasheim said that Crawford believes representatives of council would be willing to sit down with representatives of the county to discuss the issue. 

On Tuesday morning, Nov. 3, Aasheim notified the city in writing that Commissioners Brad Jones and Blake Hendrix would represent the county in a discussion if the city chose to appoint two individuals as well. 

City Council met on Monday, Nov. 9, but took no formal action on this matter. However, Aasheim reported on Tuesday that he has been in contact with the City to identify representatives who will meet with Commissioners Brad Jones and Blake Hendrix.

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