Fire-protection concerns dominated the Midway City Council’s work session Sept. 24. Both the as-yet unsigned agreement for fire services for the current year and questions surrounding Midway’s participation in the countywide fire protection plan were addressed.
Midway is being asked to merge its volunteer fire department into a new county operation that will provide full-time, paid firefighters as well as equipment and other support. Repair work on Midway’s fire station would be done under the agreement with the county.
If Midway does not sign on, Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said the county will have to look for another location in the eastern part of the county for a fire station. Brown said the county commission needs to make a decision by the end of the year.
Councilwoman Melice Gerace said she studied whether Midway could provide satisfactory fire protection without joining the county fire department.
“Could we go it alone? The answer is no,” she said.
Brown said the new arrangement would give Midway a significant voice in control, such as a board that would include one or more Midway representatives.
Brown said lead time was important because fire protection probably would be paid for by a fee to be listed on tax bills and would need to fit into the annual tax-bill mailing schedule.
Midway’s fire department is volunteer-based and uses trucks owned by the Liberty County Fire Authority.
“We don’t want it said that we gave up our own fire department, that we didn’t fight to keep it,” Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington said.
Action was deferred until the October meeting.
City officials and Brown also discussed the annual agreement the county makes with municipalities in which cities are paid $12,000 for providing fire and rescue services in areas of unincorporated Liberty County.
Councilman Terry Doyle questioned the agreement, which comes up for renewal each year, saying this year that it is “fraught with inequalities and questions” and “thoroughly slanted towards the county.” He said the agreement’s provisions for detailed trip and run data, receipts, manpower rosters and similar reporting meant a “duplicity and triplicity of accounting Midway would have to do.”
Doyle repeatedly has objected to a provision of the agreement that says it was jointly drafted and reviewed by the city and the county. Brown said that neutral-construction clause and other standard intergovernmental agreement language were added by the county attorney. Brown said he would provide a copy so officials could identify provisions they want to change. The annual agreement was set to go into effect in July 2012.
In other business, City Engineer Ronald Kolat said Midway was eligible for a low-interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to drill a well into the Lower Floridan aquifer. The estimated cost of the project is $860,000. Midway’s drinking water comes from its only well, which occasionally fails. The city draws water from the Liberty County Development Authority well when its own well is offline.
Kolat said there was a moratorium on permits to draw water from the Upper Floridan aquifer, and that the Environmental Protection Division might extend that ban to the Lower Floridan.
A study of water rates is one of the requirements of the funding. Kolat said monthly bills might go up $2 or $2.50. Discussion or action on the well project was postponed until the October meeting.