Emotions are high in the anti-consolidation faction; there may be more heat than light so allow me to shed some light on the subject from the mayor’s viewpoint.
1. The city of Fayetteville and Fayette County both have outstanding fire departments, as someone pointed out at the joint public meeting held in the county meeting chambers on 4/10/14.
2. In order to be good stewards of our citizens’ tax dollars in this prolonged recession, both the city and the county have very tight budgets, but neither are in any danger of financial collapse.
3. Both fire departments have nearly the same very low. percentage of fire calls 2 percent for the city vs. 2.1 percent for the county.
4. Logically, we should expect that the percentage of medical related calls will only increase as the city and county population continues to age in place.
5. The city fire personnel are only certified in basic life support (BLS). All the county fire personnel are trained in advanced life support (ALS). This means they can administer IVs and send telemetry to the hospital, which could mean the difference between life and death, particularly for heart attack and stroke victims. To my mind that is a significant improvement in level of service.
6. Public Safety (fire and police) currently consumes over 68 percent of the city budget.
7. The city of Fayetteville currently spends more than the total of our general fund property tax millage rate revenues to staff and equip our two-station fire department.
The city must therefore supplement maintenance and operation expenses from other revenue sources. It is reasonable to assume that equipping and staffing a third fire station will increase that portion of the city budget by half again over present levels.
8. Fayetteville was recently ranked the 24th safest city in Georgia, but there are still perceived and legitimate concerns over crime in the city.
9. Placing more emphasis on fighting crime was one of the planks of my campaign platform. Consolidation of the fire departments would yield, at a minimum, approximately $358,000 per year to the city, which would allow the city to hire and equip four additional police officers to aid in fighting crime.
This would put us several years ahead of our current schedule for bringing the police department back up to full force. With our recently enlarged city limits, we need more patrol officers sooner rather than later.
10. City taxpayers can expect no net increase in property taxes as a result of consolidation. A portion of their taxes that are currently paid to the city will simply be paid to the county all on the same bill, just like the taxes are now. The city can then reduce our tax millage rate by the 3.07 mills that the county collects, resulting in no net tax increase.
11. True, the city would lose control of future fire services-related tax increases, but without consolidation, it is likely that the city would be forced to significantly raise taxes to support our third fire station. Are Fayetteville property owners willing to pay that increased tax burden?
12. Economies of scale will allow the county to maintain the same level of services, as the city currently provides, perhaps even higher, at reduced cost, and thus without increasing taxes.
13. Consolidation should result in reduction of some duplication of personnel and equipment with resulting savings to the city/county.
14. The county can do most of the maintenance on the fire vehicles in house, whereas the city contracts most of this out. Savings should, therefore, be seen on maintenance costs.
15. Consolidation of fire departments would allow the building of Station 93 two years earlier and staffing it with one more firefighter than without consolidation. That is absolutely a significant positive benefit to our citizens, especially on the western part of the city and in the hospital/Pinewood area.
16. A larger, consolidated fire department will offer Fayetteville firefighters many more opportunities for advancement and promotion in the future.
17. The city and county are reviewing each city fire department employee’s situation individually to make sure that city employees would not lose net salary or benefits as a result of consolidation. We are committed to minimizing and eliminating negative impacts in so far as is possible.
18. Perhaps nothing can be done to eliminate the emotional turmoil surrounding the subject of consolidation, but if it cannot be shown that our fire department employees will be in as good, or even better, financial position after consolidation as before, I doubt there would be the political will on the City Council to vote for consolidation. Making sure that our employees are not hurt by consolidation is, rightfully, a major concern for all members of City Council.
19. As the governing body for the city of Fayetteville, it is the responsibility of the City Council to look out for the overall good of the city. The county already provides 911 and E911 service and EMS ambulance services for the city. Those services have been first class. There is every reason to expect that consolidated fire services would be of equally high quality.
20. I bear no malice against anyone, I merely seek the decision that will provide the most benefit to the citizens of Fayetteville. If the facts and figures I have laid out above are accurate, and I believe they are, it appears to me that the best long-term decision with regards to stewardship of city finances and providing protective services for our citizens would be to vote in favor of consolidation.
21. While I fully trust the numbers that city staff provide, upon which my thinking is predicated, I will allow that there may be details that I have overlooked or am unaware of at this point. If that be the case, I’m sure those details will be brought to my attention in short order.
I look forward to a spirited and civil discussion of the matter at our called meeting on April 23. After that, hopefully, we will have a fact-driven vs. an emotion-driven final vote to put the issue to rest.
Greg Clifton, mayor