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Freeport wrestles with fire department Issues

Dec 19th, 2013 | 0

By BEN GRAFTON
In the first order of business at the Freeport City Council meeting of Dec. 9, Planner Latilda Hughes asked the Council for a resolution of approval for transmittal of the LSA-02 amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The Council approved the request.
Hughes made a similar request to approve advertising and special meetings for the public readings of LSA-01, the military sustainability portion of the Comprehensive Plan, so that the due date for submission can be met. The Council approved the request and set the first special meeting on Jan. 6 and the second on Jan. 23, 2014.
A request was then made by Hughes for approval of advertising and setting a date for the first reading of the annexation ordinance for the Cuchens property. This was approved and the reading set for Jan. 6, 2014.
Fire Chief Chad Harrell delivered a brief report on department operations. He noted that restricting calls to within the city limits reduces their number to about one-half of the previous level. Calls included 21 medical responses, two structure fires and four outside fires. There was no fire hydrant maintenance. There were 130 training hours logged and the department participated in an “active shooter” training session.
Councilwoman Janice McLean reported that, because of budgetary restrictions, methods of reducing fire department costs must be adopted. One option would be cutting salaries, a major expense item. Some firefighters have suggested that transferring the department to Walton County could be an option. Contributing to the budget problem, the county is calling on Freeport as the first responder for some calls outside of the city limits and this adds to Freeport’s operating costs.
Councilman Harold Taunton asked that a workshop meeting be scheduled to thoroughly review and resolve the fire department financial problem.
Homeowner, Sid Hollington of the Portland area, which was formerly served by the Freeport Fire Department, but which is now served by Walton County, reported that his insurance costs have risen by $1,200 because of the change. The county’s high ISO rating is said to be the cause of the increase. The implication is that others now covered by county fire services may face similar increases.
In general discussion it was pointed out that if the city cannot solve its fire department budget problem, the service level will suffer and the possibility of a sharp rise in ISO rating and insurance costs for city residents will occur.
Cliff Knauer of Preble-Rish gave a progress update for the water system model. There is good analysis on areas within the city limit, but that additional data on line sizes is needed. He also indicated that a meeting on sewer model issues is needed.
Praestare Engineering reported that 75 percent of the required utility line relocations for the U.S. 331 work are, “…in the ground, right…” However, utility line relocation work is not done every day and a lot of the work is having to be repeated. Some of the old lines being relocated are so far underground that they are abandoned in place. Salvaged pipe is being transferred to the sewage plant.
Melton Terrell gave a short summary of Boy Scout recruiting work. He said, “Within a short period 50 kids have made contact. Phones are ringing off the hook.” A lot of scoutmaster training must be done. The city will not be liable for scout activities. He wants to take den meetings out of the homes and would like to have access to the Community Center for weekly den meetings which may last from one to three hours. The Council approved, subject to conflicts that may arise, a waiver of fees for use of the Community Center.
City Clerk Robin Haynes reported that there has been a lack of applications for the open licensed water operator job and asked the Council for authority to get information about water operator services supplied by engineering companies such as CH2M Hill. The Council approved the request.
The Council approved purchase of one new truck for the water department from a Florida contract dealer in Crestview.
Mayor Russ Barley reported that the city was getting calls every day from people wanting to hook up to the sewer system. The problem is that the total impact fee of $6,500 is more than people can pay. Barley asked for and received approval to set up a system that calls for a $2,000 down payment with the balance to be paid over a period of 10 years.
Freeport has become eligible to have a seat on the Northwest Florida Planning Council. A resolution supporting a Council person to fill that opening is needed. The Council approved a resolution. Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon was appointed the city’s representative.

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