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County says no to city offer

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors decided to stand their ground Thursday on their refusal to give the City of Natchez any extra money as part of the county fire protection agreement.

Supervisors David Carter and Mike Lazarus met with Natchez Mayor Butch Brown Thursday morning, and Lazarus said the mayor made the supervisors a counter offer to their refusal to give the city an additional $132,000 for fire protection in the coming year.

“(Brown) said if we increase our contribution by $50,000 a year, (the city) would respond to structure fires only, and would charge us $3,000 a run for anything else,” Lazarus said. “I said it wasn’t a money thing for us, we just want to move to manned fire houses in the county. That fire truck from Natchez, it doesn’t matter if we pay them a million dollars a year, that doesn’t change the distance to Sibley.”

Since the agreement was ratified in the mid-1990s, the Natchez Fire Department responds to fire calls in the county outside the city limits. The interlocal agreement between the city and county sets a base price that adjusts annually for the fire services, including an $11,000 increase for 2013 over 2012. The 2013 base price is $575,855.39.

Brown said Thursday evening that the increased funding request was one of necessity because in addition to paying firefighters, the city also has to fully equip and uniform them.

“The cost of equipment for personnel is just as important as a fire truck,” he said.

The city’s request for the upcoming fiscal year was for $132,000 on top of the base price, bringing the total for the agreement to approximately $700,000. The supervisors voted Tuesday to not appropriate anything over the previously agreed-upon base payment.

The problem with Brown’s counter-proposal, Lazarus said, was that it was less cooperative than the existing agreement.

“We’re paying more and receiving less,” he said.

When Supervisors President Darryl Grennell asked Lazarus and Carter — Carter attended the meeting by phone — if the mayor had said the city wouldn’t extend the agreement if the county didn’t appropriate the additional funds, both supervisors were quick to say that was not what Brown had communicated to them.

Brown said the city had agreed to sign the interlocal agreement and respond to all structure fires in the county.

Lazarus said he had asked the mayor if it would be possible to man the county’s rural fire departments with NFD employees as part of the agreement, to which Lazarus said he had been told “no.”

“We have been told they hired 16 additional firemen in order to provide services outside the city limits,” Grennell said. “Why can’t they take those 16 individuals and use them to man our firehouses?”

The thought of those 16 firemen brought another thought from Lazarus.

“If these are our 16 firemen we’re paying for, if they are in the city and they respond to calls in the city, (is the city) going to reimburse us for calls (the firemen) respond to in the city limits?” he said.

Lazarus said having one or two men at a rural fire station might not have an effect on insurance rates, but any effect to be had on insurance rates was just lagniappe as far as he was concerned.

“It is about life and property,” Lazarus said.

“If they have someone at the station and have a truck on site at a fire when the (rural volunteer firefighters) get there instead of having to wait for them to go to the station and get it, that can make a big difference.”

Carter said the people of his district want manned firehouses, and if the county has to take that on, he wants to do that.

“Whether we decide to do it this year or in two or three years, there is going to be a lot of bumps and learning curves, but hopefully we won’t lose any houses,” Carter said.

The supervisors were quick to emphasize that they would rather work with the city to come to some kind of countywide fire protection plan rather than take any other route, and Brown said he was also willing to further explore other options.

Lazarus also said he would be communicating with Natchez aldermen about the issue.