Jefferson County residents were given the go-ahead to attend a public hearing on May 23 to offer opinions on a proposed fire fee ordinance. Despite the efforts of one commissioner, the hearing was approved to move ahead as scheduled.
Commissioner Patsy Noland provided an "alternate plan" which drew fire from members of the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency (JCRSA), firefighters and Emergency Medical providers and others within the county.
Scores of individuals spoke during the public comment session of last Thursday's commission meeting, dragging the normally allotted 10 minute time frame over several hours. The majority of opinions given were in opposition to the "Noland proposal" which calls for the dismantling of the JCESA. That dismantling, according to the plan, "could drastically reduce the administrative cost that consumes a large portion of the proposed fees to be collected from our citizens."
Those speaking out against Noland's plan claimed that its adoption would reduce services to the county and jeopardize the public safety. Noland adamantly maintained that her proposal did not cut services.
"Absolutely nothing in the plan calls for cutting service at any time," she said after being met with accusations that her plan shuts down services from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
"My plan is to cut overhead costs and put people in fire houses to better provide service," she said.
JCESA Deputy Director Ed Hannon addressed Noland's proposal asking questions such as who, if the ESA was disbanded, would work with the fire companies to schedule coverage, provide back up assistance, be responsible for ordering supplies for ambulances including drugs, and who would deal with the DEA when there are potential controlled substance violations. All of these responsibilities currently fall under staffing at the JCESA.
Commissioner Lyn Widmyer said that she approved going ahead with the planned public hearing and she sees any move to eliminate the ESA as eliminating service. '
"It will take an oversight agency to move ahead to this new model [offering supplemental paid fire service in addition to the already established paid EMS service]. I am not surprised that there are growing pains," Widmyer said.
The commissioners ultimately agreed to move ahead with the hearing scheduled to allow the public to comment on the proposed Emergency Service Fee Ordinance. Noland was the only one to vote against moving forward.
As proposed in the draft ordinance, fees will be based on square footage of residential and commercial structures. The fee for residential units would be $55 for buildings up to 1,600 square feet up to $85 for buildings of 3,000 square feet or more. Commercial rates range from $115 for a building up to 2,500 square feet to $2,200 for those up to 100,000 square feet with 30 cents added for every square foot beyond that.
A final target date to implement the fees, according to the draft ordinance, is June 30, 2013.