LEESBURG -- Tuesday night's Lee County Commission meeting was not, as Commissioner Betty Johnson pointed out, "pick on fire chief night."
For Lee County Fire Department head man James Howell, it might have seemed that way.
Howell sought approval of three items at the meeting that had not been discussed during the commission's work session two weeks ago, asking the board to consider that the deadline for each item is July 31. And while the commission did approve the measures Howell sought, they did so after making known their displeasure at having to consider them without what they felt was proper advance notice.
"Before we move forward, I'd like to express how frustrating it is for us to have stuff added to the agenda," Commissioner Rick Muggridge said after the board OK'd Howell's request for an Emergency Management Performance Grant agreement, his request to seek pre-approval for an Emergency Response & Recovery Grant that would allow the department to purchase a rescue boat and the chief's request to declare outdated equipment surplus so that it could be donated to volunteer fire departments.
"We try to come to the meetings prepared to consider each item, and we can't do that when items are added at the last minute," Muggridge added.
Commissioners Bill Williams and Johnson echoed their fellow board member's sentiment, and while the commission OK'd the $7,427 partnership grant that Howell said the county had been receiving since the '60s and the surplus equipment request after County Attorney Jimmy Skipper said nonliability could be added as a condition of donation, the boat matter sparked an extended discussion.
Howell said the 50/50 matching Response & Recovery award would allow the department to purchase a rescue dive boat with $12,875 in special-purpose local-option sales tax funds available. The grant would supply the other half of the $25,750 cost.
"We're down to one boat now, and it's a jon boat," the fire chief said. "The maximum capacity of the boat we have is three people, which means we could not safely pull more than one person onto the boat without endangering everyone on board.
"I'd like you to consider that Lee County does have a history of water rescue."
Muggridge finally recommended approving the request with the stipulation that, after further study, the board might vote to not move forward if it determined the boat was not the best use of taxpayer money.
In other action at the meeting, the commission approved variance requests for out-of-code outbuildings on property at 787 Philema Road, a larger flag on a higher flagpole than code allows at the 611 Fussell Road Petro station, and a Verizon wireless cell tower higher and in closer proximity than code restrictions at 1619 Philema Road South.
Commissioners also voted to appoint County Clerk Christi Dockery county open records officer and commended Public Works staff for work that could save the county up to $600,000 on ongoing road projects.