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Freeport and Walton County at odds over Fire Department funding

Mar 17th, 2011 | 0

By BEN GRAFTON

At the Freeport Council meeting of March 8 Mayor Mickey Marse opened a discussion about the cost of fire protection. He said that Walton County does not provide its fair share of funding for Freeport’s Fire Department which provides  protection to county residents and businesses outside of Freeport’s city limits. Marse said that the city’s officials were elected to look after its money and that they would not be doing their jobs unless the city received a fair contribution from the county. He said that if the county did not provide a fair share of the funding, then the city should draw its Fire Department response zone back to the city limits.

In the general discussion that followed it was said that of the 125 square miles in the Freeport Fire District, 107 and 1/2 square miles are outside of the city limits and although more than 50 percent of the calls answered are to the areas outside of the city limits the county’s contribution is only about 35 percent of the cost.

Individual Council members said they had tried to discuss the funding issue with members of the Board of County Commissioners but, they report, the county is turning a deaf ear to the problem.

Fire Chief Ben Greenslait said that he has done a lot of work on this problem. He said, “We are growing and the county is not helping us grow.” He also said that Freeport is the only city that protects county property; that Freeport has invested substantially in fire hydrants, a feature that other areas covered by county equipment do not have; and that fire insurance rates will go up in the previously covered county areas if the city draws its area of coverage back to the city limits.  Greenslait reported using electric power meters to judge the number of customers that are covered by the Freeport Fire Department. Within Freeport there are some 1,418 power meters representing customers for which he says Freeport’s cost is $265 each. Measured by power meters outside of Freeport’s city limits there are 3,149 customers for which he says the county contributes approximately $65 each.

The Council approved a motion to notify the county that if additional funding is not provided by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, then the city will draw its coverage area back to the city limits.

In other business: Marse reported that the county has started work to clear an area to accommodate two additional ball fields at the Sports Complex and that bids for making the improvements will be reviewed and an award made at the next regular Council meeting.

Also, it was announced that the Sports Complex won the bid to have the District 1 South women’s rugby championships played there on April 9 and 10. Teams are expected to come from all over the South.

Angie Jay of Preble-Rish said that an e-mail has been received saying that the plans and specifications  for the North Bay water main extension project have finally been reviewed by the state level U.S.D.A. Rural Development office. Jay said a few comments about the project were made, but none of them were of major concern. A reply to the e-mail will be sent out before the close of business on March 9.

Jody Solomon of Peters Municipal Associates reported a meeting to identify where the Department of Transportation wants the city’s utility lines to be moved to accommodate work to widen U.S. 331. The information received will be used to identify any problems. The main problem is expected to be wetland issues.

Solomon said the work on relocating the Bay Loop lift station is nearing completion. A punch list of items to be corrected will go out to the contractor on March 9. About 5 percent of the project funds funds will be withheld until work on the punch list is complete. Project managers will make sure all systems including radios are working before releasing the final payment. Manual overrides will be put in.

Solomon said the bids for up-grading the treating plant are due on March 17. Presently he is dealing with minor questions from contractors about the job.

Next week an electrical engineer from Peters Municipal Associates will come to check the circuits at the ball field behind City Hall to see why the breakers keep tripping.

Marse said that as a part of the Sheriff’s Department substation work they will begin tearing down the old city hall building. The controls located there for the well need to be moved. Solomon said the plans for the new control room (a 15 by 18 foot building) are complete and the estimated cost will be in the neighborhood of $125,000. Given the estimated cost, the project will be put out for bids. The Council approved a motion to proceed with the work.

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