LEESBURG, Ga. -- Lee County Commissioners are expected to vote on a contract during their May 28 meeting that could result in sweeping changes in the way firefighting and emergency medical services are delivered.
The County Commission is studying a proposal by National Fire Services organization to give them a six-month, $48,847 contract to help Commissioners prepare for a review by Insurance Services Offices (ISO).
The review has significant meaning to property owners in Lee County. Insurance rates on property in the county are set according to ISO ratings.
Improving fire protection is a priority for Lee commissioners this year. The commission hopes to improve protection -- and possibly lower insurance costs -- especially in the sparsely populated northern section of the county.
Harold N. "Skip" Starling Jr., president of NFSO, also plans to do an assessment of fire and EMS operations and "assess changes that will improve efficiencies relative to ISO compliance and fiscal responsibility."
Starling told Commissioners Tuesday night that his work, even prior to coming before the board with the contract, shows, "There are changes I would make tomorrow."
Most county commissioners believe the study will propose that the Fire Department and EMS need to be reorganized into one unit.
Perhaps more controversially, that realignment would likely result in the hiring of a public safety director to look over the combined unit.
Interim County Administrator Lynn Taylor said she hopes NFSO of Sylvania results in maximizing ISO points during an upcoming review.
"We'll also ask them to do an assessment of both fire and EMS departments to see where shared services may benefit us," Taylor said.
Taylor has worked with NFSO previously, when the company provided consulting work when Sumter County created a countywide fire department for its unincorporated areas.
The benefit of combining the two separate agencies and crosstraining would be to have additional personnel who are certified as firefighters respond to each fire call.
Starling also indicated that if the contract is approved, he hopes to create a network of volunteers that is trained and certified to assist full-time firefighters.
In other Georgia counties, Starling said the county commission participates to help pay a small monthly stipend and/or finances training for the volunteers. He said volunteers are able to pay into a state retirement program that pays up to $900 a month at the age of 55 after 20 years of service.
Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Roland said during Tuesday's work session that he is reluctant to vote for a consulting study until he is convinced that the commission can afford to make the necessary changes.
"There's no need to pay for a study if we don't have the money to put these changes into place," Roland said.
Meantime, County Commissioners are expected to vote on another contract later this month -- this one designed to find them a permanent county administrator.
Taylor is working on a six-month contract to temporarily fill the gap left by the resignation of Tony Massey. Taylor said she is not interested in the position on a full-time basis.
The University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government has proposed helping the commission advertise the position, investigate the candidates and prepare a list of finalist for a fee of $4,500.
The commission hopes to have the process at the interview stage by August or September.
Commissioners did decide Tuesday night to change the wording of the ad and seek a county manager, not a county administrator. The duties would remain the same.