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Fire protection is better consolidated

How is it that the city and county end up in what feels like a never-ending game of political chicken when it comes to fire protection?

One of government’s most basic responsibilities — keeping the public safe — has become almost an annual battle between city and county government leaders.

For decades the city and county have operated under an interlocal agreement. Natchez Fire Department Crews have responded to fire outside the incorporated areas of the city into the rural areas of Adams County. In exchange for the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week protection, the county pays the city a fee of approximately $625,000 in 12 monthly installments.

The issue raised its head in this week’s meeting of the Board of Supervisor, when county officials contended that residents would be better served if the county used the money to provide its own fire protection, using a combination of paid and volunteer firefighter positions.

The money could be used to pay for 16 new positions for the county’s facilities, officials said. 

Unfortunately the county would still have to come up with additional funds to pay for the operation, maintenance and upkeep of fire stations. In previous meetings, the county has also discussed building two new fire stations, which would be another additional cost.

The current interlocal agreement doesn’t end until 2023. While we believe the county deserves to review its contract with the city and research alternatives to such agreements, past conversations about fire protection seem to have been used only as a way to get leverage in negotiations.  For years, we have contended that the consolidation of fire services, best serves all residents in and outside the city limits. With a shrinking population, splitting services does not make sense.

When reviewing the current interlocal agreement, we urge county leaders to research how to make the agreement better, instead of how to tear it apart.