F’ville, county still at a standoff on fire response


    The standoff over fire services between Fayette County and Fayetteville is still heating up. Fayetteville on July 11 said the county agreed to automatic aid in 1997 but the county on July 14 maintains that the agreement was only for mutual aid.

    Fayette County announced two weeks ago that it would be terminating the automatic aid agreement with the Fayetteville Fire Dept. on Aug. 1. Now the city has fired back, with Mayor Greg Clifton issuing a July 11 letter to the county stating that the automatic aid agreement based on state requirements has existed essentially since 1989 and requesting the county retract its unilateral move the mayor argued places homes and businesses and the lives of citizens at risk.

    County Manager Steve Rapson responded on July 14 saying his position on June 27 still stands: the agreement was for mutual aid, not automatic aid and telling Clifton the city’s idea of automatic aid is “not as clear as you represent.”

    The current standoff between the city and county began just over two weeks ago with Rapson’s June 27 letter to Clifton saying, “The current practice of providing automatic aid, which was started some time ago by previous fire chiefs, was never approved by Fayette County. Effective Aug. 1, our fire services will not provide this direct automatic aid type of response for supplemental fire suppression as contained within the existing 911 CAD (computer-aided dispatch) dispatch system. The existing dispatching protocols within the 911 CAD systems will be amended accordingly.”

    Rapson in the June 27 letter said the county, “would be glad to consider any automatic aid proposals which the fire chiefs could agree to and subsequently put them forward for board consideration and approval.”

    The situation, at least from Fayetteville’s perspective, changed on July 10. Fire Chief Alan Jones at the City Council work session produced a number of documents which suggested that the automatic aid agreement between the city and county was based in a 1999 state-required service delivery strategy agreement between the county and the municipalities and cannot be altered without the agreement of each party.

    Mayor Greg Clifton in a July 11 letter to Commission Chairman Steve Brown requested that the county cease its planned termination of the mutual aid agreement on Aug. 1.

    Clifton in the July 11 letter said the city disagreed that the practice of providing automatic aid was initiated by previous fire chiefs and was never approved by the Fayette County Commission.

    “Mr. Rapson refers to the 1989 mutual aid agreement which is somewhat misleading,” Clifton said. “The title is actually the ‘Agreement of Mutual Aid and Mutual Response.’ When you review the agreement there is a very clear distinction between what is described as mutual aid and mutual response.”

    Clifton said mutual aid is described as a request by either party to provide supplemental fire and emergency services while mutual response is described as a “first response assignment” (automatic aid) based on the boundaries agreed upon by each fire chief.

    “This agreement was approved by the city and county and signed by the mayor and commission chairman on Aug. 16, 1989,” Clifton said. “This agreement was the basis for the automatic aid practices that exist today. On July 1, 1997, the city and county fire chiefs signed an automatic aid agreement as permitted by the 1989 agreement. Other changes have been made to the automatic aid agreement over the years as approved by the respective fire chiefs consistent with the 1989 agreement.”

    Firing back on July 14, Rapson in a letter to Clifton said the 1989 agreement is “not as clear-cut as you represent.”

    “Fayette County knows the term ‘automatic aid.’ No use of the term ‘automatic aid’ occurs anywhere but the documents signed by the respective fire chiefs. Fayette County has used the term ‘automatic aid’ in agreements with other jurisdictions, just not with the city of Fayetteville.”

    Clifton in the letter noted that all jurisdictions approved and filed a “Service Delivery Strategy” agreement in 1999 which was filed with the Ga. Dept. of Community Affairs (DCA) as required by House Bill 489.

    “This agreement specifically states that ‘Fayetteville and Fayette County have implemented an automatic aid agreement’ for fire services, and the Aug. 16, 1989 agreement of mutual aid and mutual response and the July 1, 1997 automatic aid agreement are specifically referenced in the approved service delivery strategy agreement,” Clifton said.

    An updated service delivery strategy was approved by each local jurisdiction in 2007 and “The agreement specifically states that ‘Fayette County and the City of Fayetteville, in addition to mutual aid, participate in automatic aid where the closest available unit responds to the emergency call irrespective of political boundaries,” said Clifton.

    Referencing House Bill 489 and the service delivery strategy signed in 1997, Rapson said, “At that time city and county officials took to a blank slate in learning how to reduce duplication of services. The (service delivery strategy document, or SDS) contains a description of the services which are provided and which entity provides the services. The terms and conditions of the individual intergovernmental agreements, not the SDS document, provide the requirements for the service at issue.”

    Clifton said that by not following the agreements the county is acting unilaterally and is “unnecessarily placing the lives of citizens of Fayetteville and Fayette County and their homes and businesses at risk.”

    “Any changes to this agreement would require mutual consideration and approval by each party and an updated ‘Service Delivery Strategy’ would have to be filed with DCA,” Clifton said. “We therefore respectfully request that the county immediately cease their planned termination of the automatic aid services effective Aug. 1 and we further request that our respective fire and administrative staff initiate discussions to revise and amend (the current agreement).”

    Rapson in the July 14 letter held firm on the county’s position, saying there has never been an automatic aid agreement based on the 1989 agreement for supplemental fire suppression and that the current practice of providing automatic aid was an arrangement between previous fire chiefs.

    As in his previous letter, Rapson on July 14 said the county would be willing to consider an automatic aid proposal.

    Rapson said the county would continue to honor the commission-approved intergovernmental agreement that includes only the properties annexed on the city’s west side (in 2013) but not the remainder of properties in west Fayetteville.

    City Manager Joe Morton at the July 11 council meeting said the city attorney agreed with the findings.

    Coincidently or not, the matter of of terminating the automatic aid surfaced after the city’s recent decision, the second in three years, not to consolidate fire services with Fayette County.