LEESBURG, Ga. -- A deeply divided Lee County Commission approved a contract with National Fire Services Organization of Sylvania Tuesday evening in what Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge views as an implementation plan to merge fire and Emergency Medical Services.
The vote was 3-2 to accept the $48,847 contract with Muggridge and District 5 Commissioner Greg Frich strongly supporting the “implementation” concept.
Vice Chairman Dennis Roland and District 3 Commissioner Ed Duffy voted against the contract.
District 2 Commissioner Luke Singletary cast the deciding vote when he opted to second a motion offered by Frich.
Singletary said he approved the contract as simply a way to get 60 days worth of study by NFSO. He previously expressed concern about the ability of the county to finance sweeping changes and expansion of fire services.
He stopped short of calling the plan an endorsement of consolidation of fire and EMS units.
“I support this contract and I see it as a contract of action, of implementation,” said Frich. “We can look at cost efficiencies and broadening our service delivery areas and hopefully lowering our Insurance Services office (ISO) ratings.
Admitting that he was uncertain of future costs concerning improvements in fire service, Frich said he is able to back the contract because it gives the county commission full control on what money will be spent and what changes will be implemented.
Muggridge initiated discussion on the contract by saying he strongly supports consolidation and wants the program to be implemented because of a mandate by county residents to better protect their property against fire and to lower their insurance costs.
“Since 2007 we’ve been listening to recommendations,” Frich said, in explaining why he wanted to move forward with the NFSO deal and not do another routine study without action.
Duffy said he was adamantly opposed to awarding the contract to Harold N. "Skip" Starling Jr., president of NFSO.
Instead, Duffy said he would like to seek companies that would agree to a 30-day contract to assess the fire fighting operation in Lee County and make a recommendation.
Specifically, Duffy is opposed to hiring a public safety director and the control he deems it gives to Starling.
"I don't believe he (Starling) can take our current budget and improve our ISO ratings,' Duffy said.
Roland also opposed the contract, stating he was against spending any additional tax funds on studies without knowing how much would be needed to improve the ISO ratings and how the improvements would be financed.
"I's just not ready to tell them (fire fighters and EMS personnel) to start cross training before we know where the money to make these improvements is coming from," Roland said.
Roland said he would be opposed to raising taxes to make the improvements.
"I'm not in favor of it although I know it has to be done," Roland said.
Singletary also expressed concerns about the financial impact, to the point that his decision to second Frich's motion was a surprise.
He justified putting the contract into motion saying that a study of any type would cost about $16,000, the same price tag the county would owe NFSO if the deal ends in 60 days.
County Commissioners also approved a contract with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia which could in them having a new county administrator by Aug. 31.
Interim Administrator Lynn Taylor has been filling in after the resignation of Tony Massey to take a position in Tennessee. Taylor has told commissioners she is not a candidate to fill the role on a permanent basis.
Lee county will pay the Carl Vincent Institute a fixed fee of $4,500 in exchange for the agency advertising the position, screening applicants, developing an interview guide and suggesting finalists.
The County Commission also initiated an ordinance change which will alter the title of the top salaried employee from county administrator to county manager.
Meantime, several Lee County roads will be resurfaced with asphalt before the end of the year, according to a contract approved Tuesday evening.
Oxford Construction Co. of Albany submitted the apparent low bid and was awarded the contract.
The work includes resurfacing Starksville Avenue in the City of Leesburg. The City Council will pay $6l,505 for that project.
The rest of the work includes 4.6 miles of surfacing work in the county. The cost to the county is $406,080. The work includes:
- Ledo Road from U.S. 19 to Palmyra Road, or six-tenths of a mile.
- Stocks Dairy Road from Key Ridge Drive to Miller Road, 1.6 miles.
- Thunder Springs Road from State Route 91 to White Pond Road, four-tenths of a mile.
- Century Road from U.S. 19 to Palmyra Road, two miles.
County Commissioners agreed to abandon an easement its owned along Ledo Road to allow the construction of a Waffle House restaurant.