City and county disagreement about fire protection smoldering

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez fire department’s Connor Burns climbs the fire ladder during a routine drill outside of the Natchez Fire Department on John R. Junkin Drive Tuesday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — An interlocal agreement that provides fire protection to county residents may be producing smoke, but there’s no fire and no one ready with the water hose.

Both parties to the agreement — the Natchez Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors — have claimed they don’t have extra money reportedly needed to continuing providing city fire protection in the county.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez fire department’s Chris Dunaway, center, and Guy Tuccio observe as Lieutenant Derrick Ellis operates the fire ladder during a routine drill outside of the Natchez Fire Department on John R. Junkin Drive Tuesday afternoon.

And both sides seem to be waiting for the other to make a move.

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In the meantime, city fire trucks will continue to respond to fire calls in the county, Natchez Fire Department Chief Oliver Stewart said.

Adams County paid the city approximately $548,000 for fire protection during the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

The city is now asking for an additional $50,000 to keep city trucks driving into the county.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said Monday that the county would not pay the additional amount, but the county board did not vote on the matter. The board did vote to freeze all spending.

Tuesday, County Attorney Bobby Cox received a copy of the city’s agreement asking for the extra $50,000.

Leaders from both boards said Tuesday that they would further discuss the issue at upcoming meetings. But neither expressed a willingness to make the first move.

Grennell said if the city decides to pull county fire protection, the supervisors might have to make a decision on whether to attempt to find the extra $50,000 or use the fire protection agreement money to make county volunteer fire stations full-time stations.

City Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said county residents should be inquiring about why the county can’t provide more fire funding, since the county raised taxes in 2010-2011.

“I really feel sorry for the people out in the county,” she said.

Adams County Administrator Joe Murray said county fire protection is funded by approximately $250,000 in gaming revenues, $280,000 from the 2.75 millage property tax for residents outside Natchez city limits and an $85,000 rebate check from the state insurance commission.

He said $80,000 of that money goes toward county volunteer fire departments.

Grennell said there was a need for the tax increase because gaming revenues dropped and were no longer sufficient to cover fire protection at the level required.

Grennell said he believes there is a misconception that the county levied a tax within the city to pay for fire protection.

“That is absolutely not true,” he said.

The fire agreement that still governs county fire protection was created in 1994.

Murray said the agreement outlines a $400,000 county commitment, plus an annual adjustment based on the consumer price index.

“If they set a precedent and then all of the sudden they want $50,000 more, that kind breaks precedent with what’s been going on,” Murray said. “It’s like all the sudden, that’s not good enough.”

Grennell said the additional money for the fire protection agreement never came up during recent 2011-12 budget discussions.

“This is not the first time (the city has) requested more money (though),” he said. “The board has, more or less, felt that we were being extremely fair in the amount.”

Middleton said the aldermen will discuss the issue of the agreement at their next meeting on Tuesday.

Grennell said the supervisors will review the agreement and discuss it at their next meeting on Oct. 17.

“I really hope it doesn’t become a shoving match,” Murray said.