August 3, 2012 11:20:17 AM
Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders plans to continue discussion of consolidating city and county emergency services.
And members of the Columbus City Council agreed they need more information to know whether to support the idea.
On Tuesday, Sanders told the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors he and District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham met with Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and other city officials to determine if consolidating services was feasible and legal.
Sanders suggested making Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore head of all emergency services and for county personnel -- Fire Coordinator Sammy Fondren, Emergency Management Agency Director Cindy Lawrence and E911 Director Sherry Fancher -- to report to him, but offered no other details on the logistics of consolidation.
Fondren, Lawrence and Fancher currently report to County Administrator Ralph Billingsley.
Sanders brought the idea to the board for discussion, but District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks was adamantly opposed to the concept and further discussion was stymied.
"Primarily, right now, it's to let all the volunteer firemen and emergency responders realize this is not something we're trying to do to take control away from them or get rid of anybody," Sanders said Thursday, when asked the next steps toward continuing discussion of potentially consolidating services. "This is to have discussion to see if combining services with the city, would that create any improvement in our coverage and our emergency response? I still think we need to strive for improvement and we don't need to drop the ball here, just because some people object. We still need to go through the process and look for improvements."
Sanders noted consolidation likely would allow for the opportunity to "get a better (Fire Bureau) rating for the county" and lead to "better training and recruitment for the fire department."
"We could get better dispatching from 911 and have a better agreement with the city," he said. "If a fire is closer to the city, the city could call the Columbus Fire Department and get them there quicker. If you had 911 software (for the county), they would realize, right off the bat, the nearest fire department and they would call them directly, instead of having to wait on the volunteer fire department."
Additionally, he noted benefits would include better software and training for other emergency departments and the ability to utilize Homeland Security (of which Moore heads the local office) for grants to update equipment.
"It's phenomenal," Sanders said of Moore. "Of all the departments in the city, the one with the least problems is the fire department. All the people know what they're doing; they're well-trained."
"We need to be talking about those things and looking for ways to improve," he concluded. "And no, it's not going to be swept under the table. How we go about this depends a lot on if people buy into self-examination or not. We're going to let things cool down a little bit and do due diligence and see what needs to be done. This is just an exploratory thing. If the consensus among everybody is 'we're totally happy with our emergency services and we don't need to change anything,' we'll do that, too."
"The idea was just to put it out there and talk about it and see where it goes," said Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor. "There's a lot of other things involved (for consideration) that is not on at this time."
"I have no idea what will happen. From the city standpoint, we already have all the requirements (for successful emergency services.) It's not a major benefit for the city itself. Now, what's the benefit for the county? I can't speak on that, because I'm not a county official."
Taylor said he needed more information on the subject, before decided if he was in favor of consolidating services, but added, "I am not opposed to progress."
"I have no comment, because nothing has been brought to the council, yet," said Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens. "Until it will be brought to the council, I can't make a statement."
"All we know about it right now is what we read in the paper," Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box said, referring to news coverage of Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. "I have talked to Bill Brigham a little bit. He and I talked early on about trying to find some ways we could cooperate on.
"This might be the first of many areas we could cooperate on, but I need to get a lot more details on how the city would benefit. It would be great for the county fire department, but is it going to diminish our fire department any? We need to talk about it more. I am in favor of consolidating some areas and this might be one of them, but it's premature from the city's side, because we need more information."
"I heard it, but I have never sat down and talked to anybody about it," said Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart. "I don't know enough about it to give any comment. I would like to be told a little more. It could cause friction, so we would need to sit down and discuss that, in depth, before we make any comments on that."
Ward 5 City Councilman Kabir Karriem said he had heard about possible consolidation "in the community," but had no details until attending Tuesday's supervisors meeting.
"I don't see how the city benefits by a merger," he said. "I don't see any benefit the city sees by what is being proposed. I'm for consolidating some services that make sense, but in this one, I just don't see where the city gets any benefit."
"On the surface, it sounds like a really good idea," said Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin, adding consolidating services could mean better services and financial savings. "But again, the supervisors and the council have to look at the pros and cons of it to make sure it would work. I know Ken Moore does an excellent job for the city and he would do an excellent job for the county. Until you investigate everything, it's hard to give an opinion. But on the surface, it does seem like a good idea. But you have to take a hard look at it and who it affects and the money part of it."
Brooks, meanwhile, still isn't sold on the idea.
"I'm totally opposed to it, because they have not given me any reason it should happen," Brooks said Thursday. "I'm suspect of it, because they have not told me what Ken Moore would be doing and why he needs to be over those people. We're paying Ralph good money to do that. If we're going to look at consolidation, let's get a professional and not do it this kind of way. Until somebody tells me why Ken Moore needs to be there, I'm not even going to discuss it. I'm going to vote against it every time until somebody tells me that."
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