City manager off fire issue

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Commission not toning down on requests

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Chiefland City Manager Kevin Gay is no longer part of the discussions with Levy County on fire department issues, and Vice Mayor Teresa Barron and Fire Chief James Harris will meet with county officials on Sept. 3.

Gay said Mayor Teal Pomeroy has taken him off working with the county on budget and contract discussions in the wake of a somewhat tempestuous meeting Aug. 20 with the county commission. 

During that meeting, Levy County commissioners made clear they would only be granting one-time budget requests for equipment, not personnel. 

The city has asked for a $48,000 increase in its annual county appropriation to pay for two part-time firefighters it says it needs to cover the city, county Fire District 7 and to answer first responder and out-of-district mutual and automatic aid calls. 

The city is also seeking $15,000 in training for a firefighter to be trained to handle advanced life support functions for injured individuals until they can be transported by county Emergency Medical Service.

“We made the effort ahead of time to send information,” Gay said of the packet he sent to county commissioners. “I tried every professional means possible to avoid that situation.”

Gay said he asked twice to be let out of speaking at the county meeting. “But they said 'no. no, no. You need to come over.' I called twice to get it cancelled. I tried to do everything I could to stop this from happening.”

City Commissioner-elect Chris Jones said he was not criticizing Gay or making judgements prior to taking office on Sept. 9, but he said in Monday's meeting, “Mr. Gay, your approach is wrong. If we're asking for something, your approach needs to be different.”

Commissioner Sammy Cason, who is retiring after the Sept. 9 meeting, said, “Out in the community, we need to be watching ourselves and how we say it.”

Later in the meeting, resident Martin Reid advised the city commissioners they need to present the case for more money to the county. “You are the ones who need to do this, not Mr. Harris.”

He advised the city leaders to “present your needs in a nice way, not demand it."

“There's more money out there, and we all know it.” Reid also said that county plans to station an EMS unit in Fanning Springs should be abandoned in favor of putting a second unit in Chiefland. 

“There's a lot of traffic here ? a lot of accidents,” Reid said. 

The commission voted 5-0  to send Vice Mayor Teresa Barron and Fire Chief Harris to the county commission meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3.

But the city commission also vented its frustration at not being able to discuss its concerns with the county in the past over providing coverage in the unincorporated areas and what they feel are a high number of mutual aid calls that force the fire department to leave the city unprotected. 

Chiefland Fire Chief  James Harris invited City Commissioner Teresa Barron, who oversees Chiefland Fire Rescue, to take the opportunity to voice her frustration with the process.

But it was deferred to City Attorney Norm Fugate to do the talking. Fugate, who went with Barron to a County Commission meeting a year ago, said the county has rejected their requests for a workshop with both commissions and County Fire Chief David Knowles and City Fire Chief James Harris. 

“I got treated the same way,” Fugate said. “I got run out of the county commission meeting the same way folks are getting run out of the county commission.”

He said the commission said city officials should deal with Knowles first. 

“What we've got (is) the county has apparently got an experiment, and they're going to make a big empire.” Fugate said the city needs to let the county residents know that a countywide fire department is not going to work. 

Barron did express her frustration at the plans to put the EMS ambulance in Fanning Springs. “Fanning's on the edge of the county, it would be better based here,” she said. “Is there a facility down there to house them?”

Harris said the county did not understand why the county could not see the need for hiring more paid firefighters to cover the city while others are out on calls in the city and county. 

“We need money for manpower,” Harris said. “We got equipment.

“We need people to answer calls to meet our (county) contract,” Harris said. “We need to give our people ALS”

He said the ALS investment was worth it if one life in saved. 

“We're asking for help. We're begging for help.”

Bottom line for the city is that it will be renewing its contract with the county to provide service in Fire District 7 and mutual aid to the unincorporated areas.  But Commissioner Rollin Hudson will be working on the city's draft of a letter petitioning for the ALS service and training. 

“The city will answer any fire call,” Hudson said, and Harris affirmed that mission. And he acknowledged that any discussion with the county will include the county fire chief. “You gotta go through Knowles to get to them.”

But Barron said in Monday's meeting that other fire chiefs “have acknowledged in the past that Chief Knowles has not negotiated in good faith.” She did not say whether she had discussed the accusation with Knowles.

In agreeing 4-1, with Pomeroy dissenting, to have Hudson work on the ALS request, Harris also said, “We were trying to keep this all out of the public eye and amicably dealing on this.”

Pomeroy said, “A lot of problems that's occurred (is) that nothing has been said in the public eye.  It's not anything to be ashamed of. Let's go over there, it's is a public meeting, and say we have a problem can you help us.”

Harris said, “Chiefland Fire Rescue wants to work with the county. We want to take care of the city residents as well as the county residents. I hope I have portrayed it in that manner. I can't say anything other to you than I am begging for your help."