Members of Post Volunteer Fire Department in Catoosa County, Ga., will vote tonight on a proposal to turn over their trucks and equipment to Fort Ogle-thorpe and apply for jobs in the city department.
Robbie Tester, chairman of the Post Volunteer board, said Post members have a hard choice: dissolving their department in favor of the city, or possibly ending more than 50 years of fire protection for Fort Oglethorpe residents.
"We're going to have some tough decisions to make," Mr. Tester said. "We've been here many, many years and we would never leave our residents hanging out to dry, but you can't run a business without money."
The vote follows a meeting in which Fort Oglethorpe City Council members decided not to continue paying the department $31,000 a month for personnel and operations.
Fort Oglethorpe in February agreed to pay $31,000 a month to pay Post personnel, but that money ran out Wednesday.
Instead, he said, city officials said that if the Post organization would dissolve itself and turn over about $2 million in assets, its firefighters could apply for jobs in the new city-run department.
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb said the present situation - with some city-paid fire and rescue people and some Post members who are paid when they respond to fires - is confusing and costly.
"We cannot continue on the path we're going, to have paid-on-response volunteers," Mr. Cobb said Wednesday night. "It's going to have to be all or nothing. If the city takes it over, we're going to have to manage it, staff it, payroll and all."
Post members and the city of Fort Oglethorpe have been talking for months about solutions for their hybrid fire service.
Post has operated most of the city's service for years. Mr. Tester said that, with fewer volunteers, the department wanted to move to a paid-on-response model that he said is less costly than a full-time, paid department.
The issue is complicated. Post has a separate contract with Catoosa County, and county officials have not said whether they want to move toward consolidating into a single, countywide service.
Mr. Tester said he thought the city and the department had agreed to negotiate at Monday's meeting whether Post would merge with the city or take over the entire fire response. He said the department offered two plans, but the city's only offer was for Post to dissolve.
He said the city would set the budget and provide as much fire protection as it could for whatever the budget provides.
"We've run the fire department since the 1950s. We know how much it costs and (the city's fire budget) is not going to be enough to provide a consistent level of service," he said.
Mr. Cobb called Post's positions "smoke and mirrors" and "scare tactics."
"We will have a fire department that is staffed with professionals," he said, which should include Mr. Tester's and other Post members who have years of training and expertise.
"Nobody's getting fired, nobody's getting thrown under the bus, it's for the benefit of the taxpayers and the benefit of the people," he said.
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