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City: Fire change yet to be negotiated
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    While Bulloch County officials recently voted to form their own fire services department, the Statesboro City Manager George Wood and Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield say that decision has yet to be negotiated.

            Responding to the County Commission’s Dec. 4 decision to terminate an existing fire services agreement with Statesboro, Wood said the city was not informed the board was prepared to take that step.

            “We were not aware they were voting on the measure [to separate services],” said Wood. “We had been negotiating with them – I guess I’ll just leave it at that.”

            The city sought additional funding from the county, due to population growth in county areas just outside the city limits and within the Fire District – essentially a five-mile ring around the city.

            “We can no longer provide a service outside the city, cheaper than we’re providing it inside the city. There’s no logical reason for doing that,” said Wood. “That’s basically the position of the city. What that means is that the people in the fire district are going to pay a little bit more.”

            In the city’s proposal – refused by the county – the county would establish a fire district, which would include any property within five road-miles of the city’s two fire stations — including the entire city limits. Then, the county would levy and collect property taxes on all citizens within that district, who would pay the same millage rate for city fire protection.

            County residents within the fire district would see their fire assessment rate rise from 1.4 mills to 2.0 mills, an impact less than one tenth of one percent. In dollar figures – considering that property tax is assessed at 40 percent of the market value of the house – a homeowner would see taxes rise by $24 per $100,000 in value of their home. That figure is lowered even further when consider that local ad valorem taxes are deductible from federal income tax.

            Wood said he wouldn’t speculate about possible effects the county separation might have on city services until he has all the information from the county.

            “I can’t comment [on a new county fire department] until I have all the details, because I don’t know how it will be financed, I don’t know how much personnel they’re talking about,” said Wood. “I just can’t comment further until I know what they’re doing and what they’re plan is.”

            Regardless of the county’s vote, Wood said the city and county will be required to face court-ordered mediation, if they can’t come to an agreement themselves.

            “Basically, our letter in September said, ‘we need to negotiate now, because if we reach an impasse, we’ll need to go to mediation’ — which is what the law calls for,” said Wood. “This is part of the HB 489 agreement – the service delivery agreement. And one of those agreements is for fire service. Whatever is decided, we would still need to sit down and negotiate the specific changes and amend that agreement.”

            Members of city council received a detailed packet late Friday afternoon, outlining the negotiations — from the city’s perspective — up to this point. The topic is up for discussion at their regular Tuesday meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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