JONESBORO Lovejoy residents may soon have no one to call if their homes catch on fire.
That’s because the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to give the city notice of plans to terminate the city’s fire protection contract as part of an ongoing service delivery feud between the county and its cities.
But, it won’t be the current incarnation of the commission that ultimately has to make that decision. That will happen in six months — after two new commissioners take office.
County officials said they had to give the city notice of their plans to terminate the contract because of a prolonged Service Delivery Strategy battle which has led to the cities suing the county over services.
“If they hadn’t sued us, we wouldn’t have had to go this route,” Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said.
There is a long time to go before a final vote takes place on terminating fire services in Lovejoy, but the subject has already generated hurt feelings among city leaders. Lovejoy Mayor Bobby Cartwright called county officials “a bunch of schoolyard bullies” and later pleaded with commissioners to not terminate the contract, or even give notice of plans to terminate it.
He argued Lovejoy had negotiated “in good faith” with county representatives during service delivery negotiations. He also said he’s already begun talks with the Henry County Fire Department to begin receiving fire services from them, if a deal can’t be reach with Clayton County.
“This whole thing is so ludicrous,” said Cartwright afterward. “They are just trying to put pressure on us to sign an agreement.”
Lovejoy and Jonesboro are the only cities that rely on Clayton County for fire services. The others either have their own fire departments, or have contracts with a neighboring city for fire services. Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services has provided fire protection to Lovejoy since August 2004, according to the resolution.
Officially, county officials argue the amount of money collected by the county’s Fire District Tax is not enough to pay for fire services in Lovejoy, and a new contract must be negotiated. Bell said the tax generates approximately $400,000 to pay for the service, but approximately $700,000 is needed.
Cartwright said the cities have not been able to obtain that information in the past during negotiations. “We keep asking them, ‘How much does it cost?’ ” he said. “They won’t tell us.”
County Attorney Jack Hancock said the six-month window between Tuesday’s vote and the final vote to terminate the contract next summer, gives both sides time to negotiate a new fire services contract.
“In that amount of time, we feel confident we will negotiate something new,” Hancock said.
But it remains to be seen whether a service delivery agreement between the county and its cities must be reached beforehand. That could impact whether both sides can negotiate a new fire services contract for Lovejoy.
Bell said he hopes the new commissioners will ensure a deal is in place long before then, so Lovejoy residents don’t go without fire protection.
“Your citizens will not go without fire protection,” Bell proclaimed to Lovejoy officials.
The battles over Service Delivery Strategy and Local Option Sales Tax have turned contentious in the last year as the cities have shown solidarity in their fight to get a deal that is more favorable to them. The previous agreement expired in October 2011.
In April, county officials abruptly stripped most of the furnishings out of Lee Street Park in Jonesboro and then turned control of the park over to the city because of the lack of an agreement.
Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt complained over the summer that the lack of a service delivery agreement had resulted in the county refusing to fill in potholes on Forest Parkway and Ga. Hwy. 54, within city limits.