It’s good when the fire department is quiet, but the Midway Fire Department is the busiest department outside of Hinesville. The Midway volunteers do an excellent job with a quick response time. Many residents are not aware of Midway’s coverage area, but the Midway Fire Department covers Midway’s 4 square miles and 40 square miles of unincorporated areas of Liberty County. It also supports other fire departments when called upon for assistance.
To maintain an efficient fire department, the firefighters need up-to-date equipment and training, which costs money. Every year, Midway signs an agreement to provide fire-protection services to unincorporated areas of Liberty County. This agreement is never negotiated. The city just agrees to the same terms annually.
The problem is that the county wrote a one-sided agreement and is paying the city the same amount year after year — a paltry $12,000 a year. This barely covers the cost of fuel for the trucks. The mayor did not even review the agreement, let alone attempt to negotiate. Councilman Levern Clancy moved to approve the agreement without any changes.
In addition to paying the city too little for the services provided, the county wants to take control of the fire department away from the city and charge the residents a fee of $200 a year for fire services. The county plans to add this fee either to the already-high water bills or to our property taxes.
Midway’s fire trucks were purchased by the county with SPLOST funds. Although the trucks were bought for Midway, the county claims ownership, as the county never turned titles over to the city. If the city doesn’t agree to let the county take over the fire station, the county plans on building its own and taking Midway’s fire trucks.
The county wants to use the money that it will charge the residents to hire full-time firefighters for 12 hours a day. I guess the volunteers will cover the station the other 12 hours without pay. I presume the volunteers will be expected to cover the night shift, while the paid firefighters get the cushy day hours.
Something must be done. There is no incentive for volunteers to continue to work for free. With the economy as bad as it is, our volunteers are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. The Midway City Council needs to address this issue so that Midway residents can continue to get outstanding fire coverage. I estimate that it will cost about $195,319 to pay for a lieutenant firefighter and four full-time firefighters. The fire chief already is employed as the utility manager and paid by the city. He could continue to serve in a dual capacity until further funds are allotted by the city.
The city needs to raise the compensation that it gets under the contract with the county to at least $90,000 and re-allot some of the city’s expenditures to pay the firefighters. The city gets $109,409 from the insurance franchise tax, which should go to the fire department. Instead, the mayor and city council have used this money in the general fund for other things. The national per capita average for fire protection is $104, while Liberty County only spends $9.
As usual, there is no public outcry to force the city to get the firefighters paid for their services — that is, until no one shows up to put out a house fire, and it just might be your house.
Calderone is a conservative who lives in Midway and has written for trade publications in various fields.