Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

April 23, 2008
Fire Service Meeting: Abbreviated Transcript
Discussion:  One County Wide Fire Department

     Lake City Councilman:  Mike Lee
     Lake City Manager:  Scott Reynolds
     Columbia County Commissioner:  Stephen Bailey
     Columbia County Commissioner:  George Skinner    
     Columbia County Manager:  Dale Williams

COUNCILMAN LEE:     We have to ask the big question… Do we think it is advantageous to all the citizens to have one fire department? … We have to get the mind set if that’s the thing to do… We start having disagreements about the size of the fence posts rather than the fact that we want to put a fence up.

COUNCILMAN LEE:     …we discussed the exemptions in the city… We never could get an answer from GSG on what that amount was. (Mike Lee is chairman of the Public Safety Committee)

COUNCILMAN LEE:     This is not a real easy thing from the human standpoint. It’s really tough on our firefighters. We have some good guys over there and they get nervous when we start talking about this. I think we all feel this way. None of this is intended to do away with anybody’s job, even though if we merge that would certainly be one of the consequences. I don’t think it’s governments job to create jobs, it’s government’s role to provide service.

COUNCILMAN LEE:     To me it makes more sense to have one entity that has absolute control. Dale [COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS], your residential rate is 72 – 73 [$]?


COUNCILMAN LEE:     Ours is 154 for residential. That’s not the real rate, because we’re subsidizing it. Anybody knows that. Our motivation is two things. One is to try to maintain the same level of service and if it’s more efficient on a bigger scale and our rates came down and we saved some money. That makes economic sense.

COUNCILMAN LEE:       You ask: Will the City of Lake City require that any and/or all of the current Lake City Fire Department personnel be retained [and if so, must they be retained at current rank and salary]?

COUNCILMAN LEE:      I’m speaking for myself. We basically wouldn’t be merging anything; we basically would be going out of the fire business. Certainly, we’d like people to give an opportunity for those people who are qualified to interview and be hired. I don’t think we could hamstring you all.

COUNCILMAN LEE:[Reads question] As a number of the City Fire Department is covered by a private pension plan and as the County Fire Department is covered by the Florida Retirement System, who will be responsible for future private pension plan contributions should the private pension plan become under funded?

COUNCILMAN LEE:Private pension plans are our responsibility… Unemployment payments are our responsibility.

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:Obviously, a lot of these questions are linked by answering the first question, you really answer a lot of the other questions.

COUNCILMAN LEE:     It’s not my intent to get rid of anybody. That’s the last thing we want to do. But it’s really to look for the most efficient, cost effective way to do it.

COUNCILMAN LEE:     The fourth one deals with equipment. (Mike Lee asks Dale Williams if he remembers what he [Dale] spoke with David Kraus about regarding this].

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:     I don’t really remember, Mike. (The County Manager explains different scenarios regarding the establishment of a fire department in the city and equipment transfer]

CITY MANAGER REYNOLDS:     The only debt that we have is on the ladder truck. Everything else is paid for. (Mr. Reynolds said debt on ladder truck is about $400,000)

COUNCILMAN LEE:     Once you make this decision and you divest yourself of the fire department and this equipment, I’m not saying that there is never any backing up, but it would be real difficult and real expensive to get back into the fire business.

COUNCILMAN LEE:     (Discussed use of present fire department building). Maybe we could get some credit out of this. The building would be available. We would provide it free.

CITY MANAGER REYNOLDS:     We would definitely want the downtown station fully utilized. That’s pivotal. Maybe you would have some EMS service run out of there?

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:     It’s just related to the bottom line. Whatever the assessment is going to be will be impacted by that.

(Discussion regarding utilities and maintenance for building)

CITY MANAGER REYNOLDS:You would want to have it in the downtown area?

COMMISSIONER BAILEY:I think you would have to have it in the downtown area for ISO purposes.

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:… In order to maintain the ISO rating we would have to have a presence in the city…

COUNCILMAN LEE:That’s a pivotal location… I think it should be one county non advelorum assessment.

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:…The city would have to by resolution, authorize the county to levy the assessment…

COUNCILMAN LEE:…The County would be able to set the rate unencumbered by the city, as long as the county and city rates were the same…

CITY MANAGER REYNOLDS:     I went back and reviewed some of the documents from last year. Didn’t GSG run some kind of estimated residential rate based on the numbers that Skip proposed for a budget … and wasn’t it less than eighty dollars for a residential household?

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:     I don’t remember what it was, but it was substantially lower than what the city is paying.

COUNCILMAN LEE:     (Asks Dale to explain county question number 8)

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:     …There were three reports being prepared simultaneously. One for city; one for county; one combined…

COUNCILMAN LEE:     Do you know how our business rates compare with each other?

DISCUSSION:     City doesn’t assess vacant property. County does. Most of the commercial property is in the city. Majority of motels and hotels are in the city. Discussion of business rates. Dale opines that it is the courts have established the reasonable proportions regarding assessments.

COMMISSIONER SKINNER:     …Why don’t we look at what other communities do instead of paying consultants?

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:(Explains the ordinances all look the same.) “What matters are the numbers that are in there.”

COUNCILMAN LEE:(Discusses a phase in plan as a transition).

(General discussion of charging not for profits and churches and institutional properties).

COMMISSIONER SKINNER:(Opines that houses of worship should be exempt, but their money making property should not be).

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:     (Explains that parsonages are paying a fire assessment).

DISCUSSION:     EMS. Why is Fort White not paying? Fort White supplies in kind services. Sales tax; court decisions; EMS has long and unacceptable response times. Commissioner Skinner explained that he had to wait over a half an hour for a response while he was having heart problems. Further discussion scheduled at Board of County Commissioner meeting on May 1st.

COMMISSIONER BAILEY:      Opined, “The sticking point for the board will be EMS and Fire being separate.”

(Discussion that Fire, EMS, 911, police dispatch are linked.)

COMMISSIONER SKINNER:     This should be resolved for everybody’s sake. 911 has been nothing but pure chaos… There continues to be turmoil.

(The discussion turns back to the Lake City Fire Department Personnel)

COMMISSIONER BAILEY:     The question is, do we have to take their personnel? And no, as far as I’m concerned, the union is a non-issue because we will hire our own people.

CITY MANAGER REYNOLDS:     Over the past three years this question has come up … and they’re ready for it.

COUNTY MANAGER WILLIAMS:     (Explained what he thought happened in the real world). “When we get to the point that we’re going to do this, we are going to have x number of people for this department. We establish a job description, a ranking and a pay grade. Anybody, whether existing fireman or not, can apply, as long as they meet the minimum requirements. A lot of these people because of their seniority, they may not be willing to look at some of these jobs, because some of their salaries change dramatically.