SOUNDOFF: Post your comments
Fort Oglethorpe City Council members said Monday they have concerns about the future of the citys fire protection but wont act further until county leaders do something.
The Catoosa County Board of Commissioners has proposed consolidating Catoosa Fire & Rescue with Post Volunteer Fire Department, which has been unofficially attached to Fort Oglethorpe Fire & Rescue for more than 50 years.
Fort Oglethorpe has offered to let the Post consolidate with its department rather than the countys, but Post leaders have yet to act on either offer.
Councilman Steve Brandon said he believes the citys best move is to wait until county commissioners decide what they plan to do. The county has advertised for a fire chief to head the combined departments, but officials said they wont necessarily hire one. They planned to continue consolidation talks with fire department leaders.
I dont know of anything we can do until we know what theyre going to do, Brandon said of the county.
Councilman Harold Silcox said he was concerned that county officials havent answered repeated letters from City Attorney and City Manager Ron Goulart about the future of the departments. He said he was also displeased that county officials havent offered Fort Oglethorpe officials a seat at the table during discussions.
I dont think we should just sit still, Silcox told the rest of the council during its meeting Monday night. We need to talk to somebody. We need to come up with a contingency plan.
Mayor Judd Burkhart said he believes the city is well-poised to handle the situation even if the county continues to attempt to consolidate with the Post. A recent change in the law makes it illegal for local government entities to duplicate services, he said.
Post officials have asked for a written contract, rather than the current spoken agreement, to serve with Fort Oglethorpes department. Burkhart said that once a contract is in place, county officials will have no legal grounds to contract with the Post since it will be under contract with the city.
It will be in litigation if they try, he said.
Post leaders havent said how long the contract would run, nor have they discussed writing a contract that couldnt be severed.
County officials have touted consolidation as a more economical means of providing fire protection. The county funds about $400,000 for Fort Oglethorpe and Post fire departments combined. The city pays about $600,000, officials said.
Councilman Richard Egeland said he was concerned about what the city would do if Post and the county combine, leaving Fort Oglethorpe without any volunteers and few assets of its own.
I dont think the city can automatically come up with $400,000, Egeland said.
Councilwoman Jane Moye, who attended a work session the county commission held in Fort Oglethorpes Station 1 fire hall July 19, said county officials should worry about where theyre going to come up with the additional money to pay for the consolidated department.
Where will they come up with $700,000 to fund it? she said. County residents need to really keep their ears open too.
County officials have discussed levying a fire fee of about $40 or raising the millage rate to cover the cost.
Johnnie Red Smith, a retired Fort Oglethorpe police officer who regularly attends council meetings, said he supports firefighters and wants to know how much his taxes would need to go up to pay for fire protection under county direction and how much his insurance rating would drop.
If we lose because of something the county does, its going to cost me money, he said.
In other business at the meeting on Monday, the council:
* Voted to lower the millage rate from 6.928 mills to 6.5 mills. A mill is $1 of taxes for every $1,000 of property value. Fort Oglethorpes lowered rate means the city wont collect more taxes than it did last year, Burkhart said.
* Agreed in a 3-2 vote to begin work on a project to extend Stuart Drive to City Hall Drive. Silcox and Egeland opposed the move, and Silcox said it would create traffic backup on Battlefield Parkway. The move was designed for motorists who normally have to make a left turn onto Battlefield Parkway from Battlewood Drive to be able to instead make the turn at a traffic light. Silcox said the increased traffic flow would require making the traffic light stay green for a longer time, which would in turn back up traffic on the highway. Also, the tree buffer between the houses and City Hall will have to be cut down, he said. The two-lane road extension will go around the parking lot at City Hall. All the property is city-owned, officials said.
* Approved spending $46,000 for a study, design and other preliminary work by Arcadis to begin improving Harker Road at LaFayette Road as part of a streetscape project the city has been planning for years. Egeland voted against the expenditure.
* Voted to spend $7,000 on a 2005 Crown Victoria to replace a police car that was totaled earlier in the year. The insurance payment would have covered up to $9,097, Police Chief Larry C. Black said.
CLICK ON THESE LINKS