By DOTTY NIST
Walton County staff have been directed to approach the city of Freeport about the possibility of Walton County Fire Rescue stations being set up both on the east side and on the west side of Freeport to serve unincorporated areas.
This direction was given by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at the July 23 regular BCC meeting, following District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld having made this suggestion.
Walton County currently has a $275,000 annual contract with the city of Freeport providing for the city to furnish fire protection services to some outlying unincorporated areas. Imfeld has also pointed out that fire assessment fees paid by owners of property in those unincorporated areas go to Freeport in connection with that contract.
Imfeld suggested at the July 23 meeting, as he had at the July 11 county budget workshop, that Walton County look at constructing the two stations in order for Walton County Fire Rescue (WCFR) to take over service to the areas currently included in the contract with Freeport. This would allow for the annual contract to be discontinued and the assessment fees corresponding with the areas in question to come to Walton County.
Aside from these areas near Freeport, WCFR’s service area consists of the unincorporated portions of the county north of the bay, exclusive of the Liberty and Argyle independent fire districts. Paxton is also included in the WCFR service area.
Imfeld was in favor of the county working with Freeport in order for the best possible fire protection services to be provided to residents. He also recommended that any Freeport firefighters impacted by the creation of the new stations be considered for jobs at the new stations, with the condition that the firefighters would be willing to obtain certification.
County Commission Chairman Kenneth Pridgen commented on the need for Walton County to take a comprehensive look at fire protection in the entire portion of the county north of the bay.
Imfeld responded that a decision on whether Walton County would be setting up the two new stations would be needed by September, when the 2013-14 budget would be finalized. District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows agreed that the question would need to be decided before the county “strikes the budget.”
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said she would be more in favor of adding another WCFR station near Bruce if one were to be added. She was eager for the BCC to move forward with discussion on fire protection and on other matters with Freeport’s newly-elected city council. “Let’s meet with them,” she urged.
Along with researching the possibility of the new stations and bringing back information on the possibility to the BCC, county staff was directed to set up a meeting between the BCC and the Freeport City Council.
Information on the scheduling of that meeting will be forthcoming.