Fire squabble not good in short run

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In the short run the never-ending squabble over fire protection is benefiting no one.

The city’s request that the county pay what amounts to approximately $24,000 per fire for city crews to respond to structure fires is completely absurd.

At the same time, rejecting the professional firefighting services of the city’s trained, equipped and on-duty firemen in exchange for empty volunteer stations isn’t a reasonable option for the county.

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Both sides are losing. The city will lose $500,000 a year. The county will lose fire-fighting experts.

With only a proposed two months of fire protection on the table, the county is going to be rushed to finalize a plan of its own and either hire professional firefighters or round up volunteers.

County officials believe they can come out on top in the long run — and perhaps they can — while city officials are quick to say, “You think you can do it? Prove it.”

Everyone has an opinion, but only time will determine who made the right move.

Hopefully, though, both sides — or at least the taxpayers who elected both sides — will see that the method by which a long-term plan was reached was of benefit to no one.

It’s not unlike a similar dispute four years ago when the county voted to pull funding the former Economic Development Authority.

A wrong eventually led to a right, but that never made the wrong right.

Cutting funding to a jointly funded agency without first sitting down with all parties wasn’t the right move in the moment, and today it is still the wrong move. But the supervisors who led the charge later bragged that their vote to pull funding birthed a much better, more successful economic development agency, Natchez Inc.

Natchez Inc. and its structure is better, but that’s a result of a hardworking group of private citizens, not a childish vote of elected officials.

If the county comes out with superior fire protection at a reasonable cost in a year or two, that will be attributed to the hard work of county leaders, not to weeks squabbling over the matter that ultimately left one side with little time to implement a plan.

Such disputes, power plays, bluffs and bluff calling are ways to win a poker game, not ways to solve a community problem.

At times in the last few weeks, it appeared the city and the county had a great opportunity to come to the table together and work for the people. The efforts of Natchez Fire Chief Oliver Stewart and county Fire Coordinator Stan Owens were, certainly, great to see.

But Tuesday, when the votes came, the losing began.

When no one works together, everybody loses and most of us learned that in elementary school.

Let’s just hope this wrong can, also, end with a good result for the people.

A burning family home is not a hot potato that should be passed.


Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or