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County hesitant of city fire plan
Commissioners to discuss a counter offer regarding the five-mile fire district
Roy Thompson
Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson

    Bulloch County commissioners plan to discuss countering a proposal for a fire services agreement from the City of Statesboro with one of their own.
    The City of Statesboro is seeking a 25-year agreement with Bulloch County regarding fire protection services to a five-mile radius outside of the city limits, known as the “fire district.”  However, some commissioners said Tuesday they aren’t in favor of such a long-term deal.
    The Statesboro Fire Department provides fire service to residents of the five-mile district in exchange for monetary compensation by the
county. This benefits residents of the district through lower insurance ratings and having fire protection by full-time staff.
    For more than eight years, the agreement between Bulloch County and the City of Statesboro has been a two-year term, with Statesboro firefighters providing fire protection coverage for the five-mile fire district in exchange for $10,000 annually from the county, collected through taxes. Both the city and county governments recently voted to extend the current agreement, which would have expired June 30, to Sept. 30 in order to allow further discussion of terms.
    Bulloch County Commissioner Roy Thompson opened a discussion during Tuesday’s commissioner meeting, saying he is ready to come to a decision on the issue that has been under continued negotiation for several years. He said city officials haven’t been clear about their plans for a new fire station, and that he is weary of the delay.
    “There will be no more meetings with the City and I’m tired of thinking about fire,” he said. “I’m ready to move on it.”
    Thompson said commissioners need more information before making a decision. “I just feel like we need to know the city’s plan before we agree to a long-term deal.”
    He told other commissioners during the meeting that in discussing the issue, Statesboro City Councilman Travis Chance suggested the county make its own offer to the city regarding the fire district agreement.
    Chance said Wednesday he did make the suggestion in an attempt to help get the matter resolved. However, he disagreed that the City of Statesboro has not been forthcoming with plans for a possible new fire station within the district.
    “The (City) Council and staff has had very open and honest discussions with the county and their staff on this issue,” he said. “To my knowledge, the City Fire Chief (Tim Grams) and Public Safety Director (Wendell Turner) have had lengthy discussions with county officials about the current status and future plans for development needs, using existing five-mile district funds.”
    Bulloch County Commissioner Robert Rushing agreed with Thompson. “We don’t know what they (the City of Statesboro) want to do,” he said. As for the 25-year proposal, he said, “I would not want to commit our county to something we might not have anything to do with as commissioners,” meaning an agreement of that length would extend past the tenure of current commissioners’ terms.
    Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch supported Thompson’s and Rushing’s comments, adding that he too, is “tired of renegotiating. We need cohesive and reliable information that we have asked for and can’t seem to get.”
    Chance said city officials have given county commission answers.
    “As far as the comment regarding the city being unwilling to provide a written plan for the future growth is concerned, that is simple and has been communicated,” he said.
    “The city's intent is to place future infrastructure in an area that would improve response in the five-mile district. Also, I thought it was understood that any decisions made for the improvement of fire protection would be mutually decided and agreed upon by both county and city, as written in the current agreement.”
    Commissioners had a different view Tuesday. Thompson expressed a desire to come to an agreement. “I’m not anti-city, but a decision needs to be made.”
    Couch said city officials have not said where a new station would be built. “We’re not getting the information we need to make a well-balanced decision. The current arrangement is not broken. We’re not convinced yet the fire district needs to be expanded.”
    Chance said he doesn’t understand the county’s hesitancy.
    “Commissioner Roy Thompson and myself have had lengthy discussions on how best to move forward in good faith with the agreement,” he said. “It is very disappointing and unfortunate when some officials take a hard line on some issues, and are unable to reach a compromise regarding the protection of life and property, which should be our main collective goal.”
    As for his suggestion to Thompson that the county propose an agreement, he said “I was asked for my opinion on how to move forward, and given the current negotiation stalemate, I felt a written offer may motivate all sides to reach an agreement.
    “We will do what is asked of us to reach an agreement, because the City Council of Statesboro and staff are committed to providing protection of life and property for all of the citizens of Statesboro and the five-mile fire district. I hope that we can reach an agreement soon, and look forward to a long and productive relationship with the County and staff.”
    While no action was taken during Tuesday’s Bulloch County Commission meeting, Thompson suggested the matter be brought up at the July 16 meeting, and suggested the county consider a five-year agreement with the city.
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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