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The back-and-forth between the city of Hardeeville and Jasper County concerning fire contracts continued last week as City Council voted unanimously during its April 4 meeting to deny the latest contract proposed by the county for the Hardeeville Rural Fire District. Instead, the city approved two resolutions which were sent back to the county for its consideration.
The first resolution is for the city to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the county for fire protection services only in the Hardeeville Rural Fire District. The second resolution is for the city to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the county for the Cherry Point Fire District. The second resolution proposed mutual aid but includes certain fees for service.
City Councilwoman Carolyn Kassel said it was time for the city to move on. She made the motion to deny the county’s proposed contract. She said city staff had prepared a fair and reasonable approach to assist the county with fire coverage in the rural fire district and provide the level of fire protection and EMS that the residents in the rural fire district deserved, only to see the county refuse their attempts.
“The county claims they are now in position to provide those services to the unincorporated rural fire district and the Cherry Point District,” Kassel said. “Inappropriate planning on their part to prepare to provide these services does not mean that Hardeeville now has to step in to help. We have heard the opinions from the public and from our firefighters and now must, as leaders in this community, make a decision that is in the public interest of the residents of Hardeeville.”
The county had agreed to a $210,000 a year contract for service from the city’s latest proposal, but the city did not agree with the rest of the county’s proposal to not separate the automatic mutual aid for the Cherry Point district and the housing of ambulances. On Monday, Jasper County Council chairman Tom Johnson said the county received the city’s denial of their proposed contract on April 5, and said the city sent two separate resolutions for its consideration.
“I got a letter Friday that the city had specifically rejected our offer,” he said. “We have squandered some time by trying to be considerate of Hardeeville. We will have coverage for the areas after July 1, even if that means we will have to possibly rent a building. There will be coverage in those areas and the ambulance will operate from the building at Sergeant Jasper Park.”
Unless a member of County Council asks for the two resolutions to be placed on the next Jasper County Council meeting agenda, Johnson said the matter was no longer going to be discussed.
Last November, Jasper County voted to build two fire stations (on Stiney and Mead roads) to serve residents in the Hardeeville Rural Fire District and the unincorporated Cherry Point Fire Districts. The contract with the city’s fire department for services is set to end June 30. Johnson promised that there will be no lapse in coverage.
“It’s a little frustrating because our attempt to work with the city has been mischaracterized as a plea for help,” he said. “The county was trying not to cause them a budgetary increase. This last proposed contract was all a part of a package and the package has been rejected so we will move on.”
Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams, who claimed during the meeting that the county “is using this contract as a political football” and is “putting people’s lives and their property at risk by trying to jam this thing down our throats,” said he respects the County Council and it is time to move on.
“As in any negotiation, it’s not personal,” Williams said after the meeting. “We’re negotiating for the good of the people and this issue is a take it or leave it thing. We all have to be adults and say, ‘OK, we’ve expressed our opinion, now let’s move on.’ I’ve come to like and respect each county council member, but collectively I disagree. We all have to move on; we cannot hold grudges, we have to move on.”
Johnson said on Monday that in the future, should there be a need for more public meetings on topics that can be discussed outside of executive session, the county would consider it after the response received on the contract issue.
“I think we were open and did everything according to the law and don’t apologize for handling matters in executive session that need to be held in executive session,” he said. “I didn’t perceive this to be a public issue but I suppose you could have opened it up for more dialogue.”