First, let me say that a more formal response will be released by the City of Statesboro later, but for now I need to respond to an article in today’s Statesboro Herald in which inaccurate and incomplete information was released by the County.
A couple of months ago, a City department head was notified by a concerned citizen that Bulloch County was considering holding a meeting regarding fire services and the City of Statesboro. The department head became concerned about the notice because the County was expected to discuss issues relating to the five-mile fire district that is served by the City of Statesboro Fire Department. I asked that Public Safety Director Wendell Turner approach Bulloch County officials and request permission for Director Turner, Fire Commander Grams and myself to attend this meeting. We then met with Commissioner Roy Thompson, Public Safety Director Ted Wynn, County Attorney Jeff Akins and Fire Chief Randy Walker to discuss fire services and the impact on the five-mile fire district.
Due to continuing concerns, I invited County officials to meet with City officials at City Hall to further discuss the County’s intentions in regard to the future of the five-mile fire district. Attending were Mayor Joe Brannen, Mayor-Pro-Tem Will Britt, Councilman John Riggs and Public Safety Director Turner, Fire Commander Grams, Staff Attorney Michael Graves and myself. Bulloch County was represented by County Commissioners Chairman Garrett Nevil, Commissioners Rushing and Thompson, Public Safety Director Wynn, County Attorney Akins, Fire Chief Walker and County Manager Tom Couch. The parties listed discussed the delivery of fire services to the citizens of Bulloch County and the City of Statesboro. The City offered to provide, through the service of a full-time professional fire department, fire protection to all citizens of Bulloch County. The county scoffed at this suggestion and implied that they wanted to develop their own full-time department. In regard to the ability to serve the citizens of Bulloch County, the City is in process of establishing two new fire stations. Additionally, the City has also ordered an additional new Class A fire truck and plans for another engine are being considered. Finally, City Council has approved a new tanker truck for improved fire service to our citizens. These improvements and planned improvements will increase the capabilities of the Statesboro Fire Department and will further the Department’s status as the preeminent fire department in this region.
The City of Statesboro has not received any request from the County to change any of the fire service agreements. There has been no lack of response by City leaders, but rather just the opposite. The City has made overtures to Bulloch County regarding the enhancement of fire service in Bulloch County, while the County has failed to provide any feedback in regard to the City’s suggestions to further the interests of the citizens of Bulloch County. It appears that the County is only interested in its own objectives, which are not in the best interest of all citizens of Bulloch County and will not increase the level of protection provided to service areas affected in the five-mile fire service region.
If Bulloch County had a called meeting on Thursday as they claim, the County should have notified the City to attend. However, the County has made no efforts to include the City in any discussions held at the County in regard to fire services. The five-mile fire district is protected by the City’s thirty-three full-time professional fire fighters, with assistance from city and county part-time volunteers. The City and the County have a separate mutual aid agreement in regard to City assistance outside the five-mile district and County assistance inside the City of Statesboro. This agreement will likely be impacted by changes in other fire agreements. This could affect the ISO ratings of properties residing outside the City of Statesboro, and in such case, Citizens in the five-mile fire district would see an increase insurance rates in relation to the ISO rating increase.
The County Manager and the City Manager have discussed various fire issues and other issues of service delivery, including modification of several agreements under HB 489 the Service Delivery Agreement between both. The City of Statesboro and Bulloch County employ fire fighters. However, the difference in the training and experience of the full-time firefighters employed by the City of Statesboro cannot be denied. The City of Statesboro Fire Department professional training requirements are much more stringent than the County Fire Department’s and City firefighters are career professionals, with years of experience as full-time fire professionals.
With the June 30th deadline approaching for the completion of a funding agreement between the County and the City, the County is placing the City of Statesboro in an unfair position, as the City is unable to project its budget for the fire department. An offer was made informally by a County Commissioner to two City Councilmen to continue funding the city, but at a reduced rate of $120,000 annually in exchange for the support of a County tanker truck and a driver. However, any change in the cost share between the governments for the five-mile fire district would be unfair, as the tax money collected within the five-mile fire district would likely be used outside the fire district.
If the County is allowed to construct additional fire stations in areas already served by the City of Statesboro Fire Department, such construction would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and would lead to nothing more than the duplication of services. In that regard, the intergovernmental agreement prepared in response to House Bill 489 prohibits the County from building fire stations within the fire district. If Bulloch County were to add a fire station within protective area of the City of Statesboro Fire Station, a violation of HB 489 contractual limitations may be violated.
On Wednesday, I met with County Manager Couch to discuss the 2013 SPLOST referendum. During this meeting, the issue of fire service did not arise. Further, the City of Statesboro has not received any communication from Bulloch County on this issue as of late and no legitimate concern relating to the fire services provided to Bulloch County residents has been identified. The City has always provided the best fire protection in this region. The question becomes, what would happen to industry, schools, businesses and residences outside of the City of Statesboro if the Statesboro Fire Department was no longer involved outside the City? The simple answer to this question is that the level of protection would be diminished.
The City of Statesboro will not stand for a compromise of fire services to the citizens of Bulloch County and the City of Statesboro. Rather, the City is committed to serving our citizens and the citizens of Bulloch County by ensuring that the lives and property of our residents are served by the best fire protection that we can provide. We would like to reach a long-term agreement with Bulloch County on fire services and to designate the needs of the affected citizens and business as a priority. No agreement has been submitted today or in the past to me or to the City of Statesboro. I am looking forward to having a discussion on these issues and progressing toward a universal solution that best serves our citizens.
Frank C. Parker III
City of Statesboro