County declines city’s request for additional $132K for fire protection

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Clockwise from far left, Adams County Board of Supervisors president Darryl Grennell states the county position on fire protection during a joint meeting with city officials. Natchez alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux Mathis listens as District 1 supervisor Mike Lazarus talks about the county’s recent efforts to research developing county fire protection districts as an alternative to the current agreement. District 2 supervisor David Carter listens to Natchez Mayor Larry L. Butch Brown. Adams County Emergency Management Director Stan Owens address

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors declined a request Tuesday from the City of Natchez for an additional $132,000 for its fire protection agreement.

One reason Supervisors President Darryl Grennell gave — among others — was similar to the explanation given when such a request was denied last year. The board’s tentative budget for the year has been completed and legally advertised, he said.

The county will still fund the fire protection agreement at its current contractual rate with the city for the coming year.

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The supervisors also instructed Board Attorney Scott Slover to draft petitions for the formation of county fire protection districts. Residents who want the fire districts formed would sign the petitions.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown presented the request for additional funds to the supervisors at a joint supervisors-Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting. The $132,000 would be on top of the base contract for fire protection, which for 2012-2013 would be $577,000.

That base payment would still be considered low for the cost of fire protection to the county, Brown said.

The cost of paying, equipping and providing uniforms for firemen hired specifically to respond to fires in the county without considering Medicare, retirement and worker’s compensation is $479,673.12 annually, he said.

“Your contributions in terms of equipment has been next to nothing since the initiation of the agreement,” Brown said. “The fact is that we are not getting adequately compensated for the cost of county fire protection. It is a cost thing, this is not a profit center.”

When Grennell asked Brown what would happen if the county did not pay the additional funds, Brown said, “We are going to have to look long and hard at what we respond to. Every time we dispatch two trucks to the county, that’s two less in the city inventory.”

In 2010 and 2011, the Natchez Fire Department responded to an average of 23.5 structure fires in the county annually, Brown said, and the NFD is dedicating 40 percent of its calls to responses in the county, which also includes things like arcing power lines and grass fires.

“If the county chooses to have its own countywide fire protection system, more power to you,” he said.

Brown also contended that a countywide fire program would not have any effect on insurance unless three men manned the county fire stations.

After the aldermen left, County Fire Coordinator Stan Owens said three people would be needed at the stations only for an insurance rating of 5, whereas the county program was not aiming to get an insurance rating that high.

During the meeting, former supervisor and Kingston resident Virginia Salmon spoke in favor of manning the county’s rural stations in some capacity.

“Fire protection is for the protection of life and property, and certainly fire protection is more effective if it is closer to the problem,” she said. “Whatever the logistics have been and are or shall be, when you look at it, the closer you have a truck to a fire, the faster you can protect the property.”

Grennell also asked the city leaders if it was possible for the county and city to find a creative way to man county firehouses with city personnel.

“That way, when there is a fire that occurs outside the city limits, there is a truck from one of those rural stations that is en route to save property and life,” Grennell said.

Brown responded that there was slim to no chances that such an arrangement could be worked out.

Owens said he favored a true fire consolidation, in which a Natchez-Adams County Fire District was created.

“By consolidation I mean that the county buys in a little more on the fire plan, and has in the contract that (the city) man our firehouses,” Owens said.

“Financial wise, they probably couldn’t do that with what the county gives them.”

When the supervisors asked if there was any way to get a guarantee that higher funding would result in better service, Slover told them they could write any expectations they had into the interlocal agreement for fire protection and then sign it or not sign it depending on the city’s answer.

The supervisors also said the county would have volunteer firefighter drives to recruit volunteers, and they would consider the possibility of having county road crew members train as volunteer firefighters for extra pay.