County fire position will remain as it is

Published 12:07 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Coordinating volunteer fire response in Warren County will not come with additional duties, county supervisors decided Monday, ending a month of talk it would be folded into another department.

By week’s end, the fire coordinator position will be listed in departments that come under the Board of Supervisors’ direct purview. It won’t have environmental officer in the job title anymore, as the board voted 3-2 to extend the nameplate to its clerk for managing garbage pickup and add garbage-related visits in the field to its permitting officer’s daily tasks.

“We should try — and I think it would be successful — the combination of the permit officer and the household garbage inspections,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said before moving that the board OK such an arrangement. The post has been vacant since Thursday, when 20-year coordinator Kelly Worthy retired. State law mandates counties hire someone who is either a volunteer or a municipal firefighter.

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The board voted 4-1 to advertise for an operations officer in Emergency Management Agency and differed on what kind of bump in pay should be afforded a new fire coordinator. It had paid $42,000 under the split fire/environmental title Worthy held.

Board President Bill Lauderdale, the deciding yes vote on keeping the coordinator’s job free of other titles, said it should pay no less than $29,000 a year. District 3 Charles Selmon said annual pay should be negotiable based on experience. The issue was delayed until an informal session Monday.

Even if annual pay for a coordinator is held around $21,500, pay raises tied to the added work for environmental clerk Katie Stanford and permitting officer Reed Birdsong and a new hire in EMA would add $18,000 in salary in fiscal 2013 compared to the current arrangement. Selmon, absent from last week’s talks, said he opposes George’s threefold motion due to the part about adding garbage collection inquiries for the permits officer, who answers to EMA. Currently, the job involves checking to see that residential developments comply with the county’s subdivision ordinance. Though the overall chain of command in EMA ends with supervisors anyway — its directorship is appointed by supervisors — Selmon said it was all about power.

“We’re literally giving up power,” Selmon said. “We don’t have control over it anymore. I know we have control through emergency management, but we don’t have direct control.”

George countered that mixing field visits about developments with those about paying for garbage disposal shouldn’t create any lasting issues.

“I can’t visualize us not being able to come to terms with a department head over something that we created,” he said.

District 2 Supervisor William Banks, who favored keeping each job aligned as is, without combinations, voted no on George’s motion because expenses weren’t being cut. His was the lone vote against advertising for an operations officer. The combo plan had come with EMA executive director John Elfer’s backing and a $34,000 annual savings from not having to hire an operations officer, which acts as a deputy director.

The environmental officer post manages garbage pickup outside Vicksburg municipal limits, where residents must contract on their own for lawful trash disposal. A $1.25 surcharge added to garbage bills for homes and businesses goes to fund an “environmental office” consisting of the officer and the clerk position, which has been paid $26,600 annually.

In the plan that passed, the county wouldn’t have to purchase another vehicle for field rep for the garbage management, District 1 Supervisor John Arnold said. Worthy’s most recent vehicle for both gigs, a 2007 Dodge Durango, cost $18,524 under state contract, according to the county’s Purchasing Department. The vehicle will be used by the next coordinator.

“We’d be creating another job and costing us more money,” he said. “And another vehicle.”

Keeping the fire coordinator position by itself could stimulate current volunteers’ interest in the job, regardless of salary, said Jerry Briggs, chief of the Culkin Volunteer Fire Department who waited out Monday’s proceedings in the back of the room.

“I’m more likely to apply now,” Briggs said.

Fire response outside Vicksburg is divided among six fire protection districts where additional millage rates are applied to property taxes for the service. Volunteer forces range from 85 to 100 people in the Culkin, Fisher Ferry, LeTourneau, Bovina, Eagle Lake and Northeast departments.