By Joel Hall
After much debate, the Jonesboro City Council voted to pursue a 10-year agreement with Clayton County for fire-protection services.
The city's terms for the agreement, which include a $30,000-a-year increase in what the county has been paying to lease fire station space, will be brought to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners this week for its approval.
The council voted 5-1, with Councilman Bobby Wiggins opposed, to adopt the 10-year agreement. In the agreement, the city expresses its intent, in three-years time, to pursue a joint appraisal of the Fire Station No. 13 building on North Main Street, with the idea that the city may sell the building to the county at an agreed-upon price.
Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said that the agreement the city is seeking, calls for the county to lease the fire station from the city for $70,000 a year. During the course of the 10-year agreement, the city would not be obligated to sell the building and the county would be able to make an offer to purchase the building anytime, he said.
"The county can't afford to buy the building the way the economy is, and we can't afford to give it to them," Maddox said. "We're going into a leasing agreement for 10 years, with the option that they can buy anytime.
"Seventy-thousand [dollars] a year is a little more favorable than $40,000 a year [the lease price during the city's previous fire-services agreement]," Maddox said. "It's just another revenue source ... It will go into the city coffers."
Prior to the vote to approve the agreement, Wiggins made a motion to accept a three-year service agreement with the City of Forest Park, but the motion died for lack of a second. Wiggins said he believes the agreement [passed by his colleagues] will ultimately push more city property into the ownership of the county, and postpone the chance for the city to reinstate its volunteer fire department.
"I think if we bump this contract now, we stand a chance to have our own dedicated fire department to the City of Jonesboro," Wiggins said. "It will cost us some money to reinstate our fire department, but I think this is an opportunity to do it. I believe once we get started, the volunteers will come, because it is in their blood. We could have a great fire department, like we used to, with a little bit of time and your support."
The city council ultimately decided to pursue options with the county, however.
In another matter, the council voted to spend $48,164 from the city's reserve funds to pay for increased costs associated with the city's retirement policy through the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). Maddox said that this year, cities around the state saw their retirement plan rates increase.
"According to GMA, the investment pool fell off, so that accounts for the increase," Maddox said. "All of the cities dealing with GMA saw a sizable increase. For a city the size of Jonesboro, it does mean a lot. We'll have to take from the reserve funds to pay it. Hopefully, the economy will turn around."
According to City Finance Clerk Sandra Meyers, the city currently has about $2.5 million in its reserves.