City, county still talking fire protection

Published 12:04 am Monday, September 10, 2012

NATCHEZ — Adams County and Natchez city officials had face-to-face meetings and one-on-one telephone calls to discuss future arrangements for Adams County’s fire protection late last week.

A formal meeting by the Adams County Board of Supervisors to further discuss future options may happen this week, Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said, though it was not planned as of Sunday evening.

Adams County Fire Coordinator Stan Owens and Natchez Fire Chief Oliver Stewart met Friday to discuss what can be done, and Saturday Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus said he had spoken with several Natchez aldermen to communicate the county’s fire protection goals.

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“We have been discussing alternatives and ways to make it work, because we want to do what is right for the people of both the city and county,” Lazarus said.

“We are going to get something worked out. We are not going to leave the people out in the county hanging.”

Owens could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

At issue is the level of funding the county should be expected to contribute, as well as the ability of the Natchez Fire Department to be able to respond to fires in distant parts of the county.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors has already agreed to extend the fire protection contract it has with the City of Natchez, though the supervisors declined an increased funding request from the city last week and have previously verbally committed to finding a way to man the county’s rural volunteer firehouses.

Currently, the battalion of firefighters hired as part of the fire protection agreement is based in the city. The supervisors have contended that the distance from the city to some parts of the county hinders adequate response, and response time would be much better if the rural fire stations could be manned even part-time.

The supervisors agreed to fund the agreement for the coming year at approximately $576,000, the base funding provided for in the contract, which adjusts the cost annually.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown has also said the city will renew the fire protection agreement, though it may have to be altered to have the fire department respond only to structure fires.

The $132,000 funding increase the city originally requested on top of the $576,000 base — and the later counter offer of only responding to structure fires if the county increases funding by $50,000 — is necessary to maintain fireman equipment needs in addition to running the fire stations and paying firemen, Brown said last week.