Hinesville city officials decided Hinesville residents no longer should foot the bill for providing fire service outside the city limits, namely to Flemington and parts of unincorporated Liberty County. The Hinesville City Council discussed renegotiating a fire service agreement with the county and Flemington during an off-site planning session last week on St. Simons Island.
“We have been receiving payments from Liberty County for decades for providing fire service outside of the city of Hinesville,” Billy Edwards, Hinesville city manager, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
“That fee was increased to $30,000 years ago. We assumed the payment the county was making to the city to be in part compensation for providing fire services to Flemington.”
With fire service costs going up, those fees had to be recalculated and a new agreement had to be drawn up, Edwards said.
He told the Hinesville City Council during last week’s workshop that the county and Flemington had not responded to a proposed agreement the city sent them last fall. The council decided to give Flemington and the county 30 days to respond to the proposed agreement.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said hotels, restaurants and other businesses along Highway 84 in Flemington effectively could be left without protection if a fire service agreement was not reached. He and other council members also voiced concern over homeowners’ safety should the city not provide fire service to Flemington.
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said Tuesday in a phone interview that the county informed the city in July it would not renegotiate a contract.
“It was proposed to the finance committee for consideration and was not funded in this year’s budget,” Brown said.
According to Edwards, Hinesville would charge the county $179,722 for fire service for this fiscal year and would charge Flemington $151,609. Hinesville budgeted a total of $3,307,357 for fire services for fiscal year 2011, he said.
“The proposal we received was based on the digest value of homes in those areas,” Brown said.
Flemington Mayor Sandra Martin confirmed Tuesday the city would meet to negotiate a fire service agreement with Hinesville.
“We’re just kind of in limbo right now,” Martin said. She said the proposed fee amount was “a lot more than what they (Flemington council) felt they could budget at this time.”
Hinesville also has been performing fire inspections of buildings in Flemington to ensure they are up to code. Flemington has paid for those inspections, Martin said.
Brown was confident that volunteer fire departments effectively could provide fire protection to those portions of unincorporated Liberty County once served by Hinesville.
“The (unincorporated) areas they (Hinesville) have furnished primary response to have been from the Flemington city limits to Holmestown Road on the east side and from the Hinesville city limits on the west side up to Gum Branch,” Brown explained. “They sent us an agreement for consideration to provide those services for us. We chose not to accept that agreement at this time in its form. The volunteer departments will provide service to those areas.”
Brown said Fleming and Midway are the main service providers to unincorporated county in the Holmestown Road area, and Gum Branch can handle the other portion of unincorporated county.
“It should not have any impact on ISO ratings in those areas,” Brown said. “They don’t have municipal water and are outside a geographic area that would offer a significant ISO reduction.”
The county administrator said call run data showed 85 percent of calls to the unincorporated county were not fire related. Rather, those were first-responder calls such as traffic accidents and health emergencies, he said.
Hinesville provides 89.9 percent of its fire services to the city of Hinesville, 5.43 percent to unincorporated Liberty County and 4.58 percent to the city of Flemington, according to Edwards.