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Fire issues heat up City Council meeting
T he City of Statesboro and Bulloch County are at odds over the cost of fire services. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    The Statesboro City Council got heated Tuesday as City Manager George Wood outlined the city's plan for a fire services agreement while questioning the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners decision to cancel their agreement with the city without a formal plan of their own.
    In a nutshell, the proposal would create one fire district - anything within five road-miles of existing city fire stations - which would then be taxed at an equitable rate for all property owners in the district. Wood said the current tax schedule places to big a burden on the city.
    "The city is paying to high a percentage for fire services, while the county is not paying enough," said Wood.
    He used an example of two, identical $100,000 houses - one inside city limits and one in the fire district. At current rates, the county house pays 1.4 mills while the city house pays 2.74 mills - almost twice the rate for the exact same service. He also pointed out that funding for the eight fire districts out in the county is paid out of the county's general fund, meaning that Statesboro citizens are also paying a portion of the county's fire protection as well.
    During the meeting, Councilman Will Britt asked if the city manager or the mayor - who were negotiating with the county on the city's behalf - heard about this idea to separate the city and county services.
    Mayor Bill Hatcher said, "It was a total shock to me. I never heard talk of the county forming their own fire department. I thought we were on the road to getting this thing settled, then they hit us with this."
    Wood said the county is under the assumption that the county can simply cancel the contract by sending a form into the state.
    "They are trying to abide by a 1985 contract, but we are operating under a 1999 contract, which requires us to go to mediation," said Wood. "I recommend giving [the county] a set time to respond. If we are not in agreement at that point, let's just get on to mediation."
    Ultimately, the council voted to move forward with the city plan and formally submit it to the county. Included in the motion was a requirement to have the county plan by Jan. 18, a few days after the second meeting in January.
    In other council business, the mayor announced that the Mayor's Motorcade raised $2,025 and collected a van-load of gifts for the Georgia Regional Mental Hospital. About 20 - 30 Statesboro citizens were on hand to deliver the presents on Dec. 12 in Savannah.
    Also, Councilman John Morris was recognized by the council for his six years of service. The meeting took a brief recess to have a reception for him.
    Hatcher said, "Thank you for a wonderful job. We wish you all the best."
    In response, Morris said, "This past six years has been an honor for me. I love Statesboro. I hope the progression of this city will continue as it has over the past six years. It makes me proud to be a part of this community. Thank you for allowing me to serve."
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