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City accepts county's fire service proposal

City accepts county's fire service proposal

City accepts county's fire service proposal

Firefighters work at a fire scene in ...

    In a brief and amenable meeting Friday, Statesboro City Council members agreed to a proposal by Bulloch County Commissioners to continue paying the city for providing fire service to an area within a five-mile radius of the city limits.
    Both city and county officials were jovial as they greeted each other Friday, but during Tuesday's meeting to discuss the fire issues tempers flared and tension was evident.
    The debate over fire service to what the county has dubbed the "Statesboro Fire Tax District" began when city officials asked the county to increase the percentage of the city fire department's budget it pays for services to the area. Since 1985, Bulloch county has paid 25 percent of the city's fire budget, and city officials asked for an increase to 43 percent.
    After failed attempts to negotiate the terms, county officials, unhappy with the proposal, voted Dec. 4 to end the agreement and form a county fire department to cover the area and supplement  existing volunteer fire departments.
    City officials countered with protests that the only way to end the agreement was mediation, citing House Bill 489 rules.
    During Tuesday's meeting between the two governmental agencies, county leaders proposed paying the city 1.4 mils, or 25 percent of the fire budget, for fiscal year 2008.  The percentage will increase to 1.8 mils, or about 34 percent, for fiscal year 2009.
    Tuesday's meeting lasted four and a half hours, and several officials from each side expressed frustration and disagreement over various points regarding the issue. But during a lengthy recess, Bulloch County Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil, Statesboro Mayor Bill Hatcher, Statesboro City Manager George Wood and Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch huddled together in deep discussion. Afterward, the county commissioners voted to amend the original proposal (paying 1.4 mils) by increasing the amount to 1.8 mils during 2009.
    County leaders set a deadline for the city to respond by 5 p.m. Friday, but then both parties agreed to meet Friday at 2 p.m.
    Hatcher recommended city council members vote to accept the county's proposal " in principal," then officially adopt it during the next council meeting.
    He also expressed approval of both parties' having peacefully reached an agreement.
    "I want to say how appreciative I am that we were able to work this out," he said. "It is a tribute to both bodies. The City of Statesboro is willing and able to help in any way we can."
    I appreciate everybody coming together  and reaching a compromise, a solution," Nevil said.
    Statesboro Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield told the group he and Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn  plan to "work cooperatively to do whatever we can ... we've got some bridges to mend. I think we've got a big challenge ahead of us ... but I think it's a doable thing where the citizens can reap the benefits."
    "We will move forward and make this happen," Wynn said. "Our people are more  than willing to move ahead and go where needed."
    Both city and county residents " are proud to see this" cooperation between the governmental agencies, said Statesboro City Councilman Tommy Blitch. "The city and county can work together if they try."
    He made a motion to approve the proposal, and council members voted unanimously to accept the proposal and to take an official vote during the next Statesboro City Council meeting.
    Bulloch County Commissioner Jan Tankersley made  the same motion, and commissioners voted unanimously to take the same action.

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