Catoosa County and Fort Oglethorpe city officials said they do not expect to have an agreement on providing fire protection for an unincorporated part of the county to take before a Superior Court judge this morning.
“The (Catoosa County) board recognizes that we do need to provide fire protection for that part of the county,” County Attorney Skip Patty said during a commission meeting Tuesday. “We want to pay our fair share of the costs.”
Ron Goulart, Fort Oglethorpe’s acting city manager and city attorney, said despite the stated willingness to share in the cost to the city and Post Volunteer Fire and Rescue to cover the area in the northwest part of the county, county officials are using inaccurate information to compute that cost.
“I’m convinced they are not dealing in good faith,” Mr. Goulart said. “I can look at the numbers and see that they are getting a good deal.”
Officials hope to settle a legal dispute over the cost of fire protection for residents in the unincorporated areas outside the Fort Oglethorpe city limits.
Catoosa County has been paying a combined total of $391,000 a year to Fort Oglethorpe and Post Volunteer Fire and Rescue to cover the area.
Tuesday, Mr. Patty said that amounts to Catoosa County paying 58.9 percent of the city’s total fire services budget.
He asked city officials for a “per rooftop” cost for protecting the unincorporated area, which includes about 8,000 residences and parts of Lakeview and Boynton, and he also asked for the cost of providing fire protection within the city limits.
Catoosa County’s payments of $391,000 were under contract with $175,000 going to Fort Oglethorpe and $216,000 paid to Post Volunteer.
“It is not fair for the county to subsidize the city’s costs,” Mr. Patty said. “We want to determine what is an equitable amount of the cost just for the county area and pay that.”
Fort Oglethorpe’s total fire budget for 2007 was $690,081, Mr. Goulart said. That does not include Post Volunteer’s expenditures. He said the city spends more than half its fire budget on protection for the unincorporated areas.
Fort Oglethorpe and Post officials filed a lawsuit against the county in May on the eve of the deadline when county officials planned to end contract payments to both for fire services.
Mr. Patty said the county took the step with the long-term goal of creating a county fire department that will cover all of the unincorporated areas and Ringgold.
As a result of the lawsuit, Superior Court Judge Ralph Hill temporarily restrained the county from ending the contract payments and ordered all parties into mediation.
During the mediation session, Catoosa County officials proposed payment of $200,000 to Post Volunteer for one year of fire service, and nothing to Fort Oglethorpe.
Fort Oglethorpe countered with a status quo proposal of $175,000 payment to the city and $216,000 to Post Volunteer in a 12-month contract, with a 60-day cancellation notice, Mr. Goulart said.
“They wanted to pay zero to Fort Oglethorpe,” he said. “I rebutted that they don’t understand that it takes fire stations 8, 10 and 1 to provide that level of service. In the daytime, our people respond from station 1, and at night (Post Volunteer) responds with our equipment from station 1.”
Mr. Goulart said the city has an Insurance Services Office level 3 fire rating, and its fire protection for the unincorporated areas means they also benefit from the ISO 3 rating.
Areas covered by Catoosa Fire and Rescue have an ISO 5 rating.
If no agreement is reached to present to the court at 9 a.m. today, both attorneys said, they will ask for a continuance because they believe they’re close to a solution.