Fayette presses F’ville for fire dept. consolidation
Uniting county, F’ville city fire units a ‘wash’ on taxes, county mgr. says
A proposal to consolidate the Fayetteville and Fayette County fire departments is being floated again by county officials.
The County Commission and City Council will have a joint meeting to go over details today (Wednesday) at the county government complex in downtown Fayetteville starting at 6 p.m.
The county is touting the consolidation plan as a win for Fayetteville residents because of improved EMT services, a streamlining of all operations and an earlier opening and full staffing of a proposed new fire station off Veterans Parkway.
Fayetteville currently relies on the county for ambulance and most emergency medical services, since its firefighters don’t have advanced paramedic training.
But the county stands to benefit because it would eliminate the funding problem created when the city annexes land from the unincorporated county.
When such an annexation occurs, the county is no longer able to charge the fire tax to the property because the city provides fire services. Further complicating the fact is that the tax digest for the county fire services is almost exclusively residential in nature, with few commercial and industrial properties to contribute. The recent economic recession’s hit on the housing market thus sent the county fire service’s tax revenue downward.
From the taxpayer’s perspective, County Manager Steve Rapson said the consolidation would be “a wash” — little if any change — because the county would simply begin charging city residents the same 3.07 millage rate currently assessed only to residents in the unincorporated county.
“To the taxpayers it’s a net zero,” Rapson said, promising that no property tax increase for the fire fund is being considered.
Rapson also said the Fayetteville Council could roll back its millage rate to account for the money it won’t have to spend on fire services, while banking a one-time savings of about $400,000 that could be spent on other city priorities.
The county also plans to keep staffing the existing two fire stations in Fayetteville: the one near City Hall in downtown and the one at the Fayette Pavilion shopping center.
The council has the final say on the consolidation effort, and just two years ago it turned down the county’s previous such proposal. An intervening election has changed the council’s composition with two new members.
The council is slated to make its final decision on April 17.
If consolidation is approved by Fayetteville, the county wants to have it fully operational by July 1 of this year.
In an effort to make for a smooth transition, the county will host an informational meeting for both city and county fire staff this (Wednesday) morning at 9 a.m., and they are also welcome to attend the 6 p.m. joint meeting of the council and commission.
The improvement of EMT services for city residents is a significant factor, Rapson said, noting that the city fire department currently provides basic life support (BLS) service compared to the ALS service offered by the county fire department.
The difference is that ALS crews are allowed to administer injections, IV fluids and intubation, and they have equipment for airway assistance, cardiac life support, and cardiac monitors that transmit information about patients’ heart rhythm directly to the hospital, county officials said. By contrast, BLS crews are equipped with “epi” pens and oral glucose.
One major difference is that since all county firefighters are EMTs or paramedics, the county’s fire engines provide ALS support for patients since they often arrive on the scene before an ambulance can arrive.
The county’s consolidation proposal would allow all Fayetteville full-time firefighters to be absorbed into the county fire department, and each would receive at least a small bump in salary, according to Rapson.
While this makes room for each city firefighter and each member of the city’s command staff, they will have a two or three-year time frame to get their advance life support (ALS) training as an emergency medical technician. And the command staff would need to get an associate’s degree if they do not already possess one, along with taking a paramedic course that the county would pay for, Rapson said in a presentation to the county commission Friday afternoon.
The city fire captains could also choose not to seek the associates degree but remain as a paramedic, but they would be choosing to move to a lower position, Rapson said.
City firemen would also benefit from more opportunities for promotion in the county fire department, Rapson noted.
The proposal calls for the county to absorb the city’s fire-related impact fees of about $1 million, which would be used to build the new Veterans Parkway station that would serve not just the nearby Pinewood Atlanta Studios, but also nearby Piedmont Fayette Hospital and assisted living facilities while being poised to handle future economic development growth in the area, Rapson said.
The city would also be compensated for the fire stations and bunker gear equipment, Rapson added.
The county in turn would gain the efficiency of not having to send units through Fayetteville to respond to service calls on the other side of town, Rapson noted.
“We think that’s the biggest bang for our buck as opposed to having to work around another jurisdiction,” Rapson said.