Following a significant improvement in its fire insurance rating, Catoosa County is looking to update or terminate its interlocal agreement with Fort Oglethorpe for fire protection services, though no changes are likely soon.
Adopted in 2011, the agreement allocates duties and responsibilities between Catoosa and Fort Oglethorpe for providing fire protection services to various unincorporated parts of the county.
Under the agreement, Fort Oglethorpe provides service for unincorporated pockets of Catoosa near Battlefield Estates subdivision via Fire Station 8, which is located on Old Mill Road. The city also provides service for the county via Fire Station 1 on Forrest Road to unincorporated areas near the White Oak community on Highway 27.
Per the agreement, the county pays Fort Oglethorpe $175,000 for the coverage each year.
A resolution to terminate the agreement was placed on the agenda for the Catoosa County Commission's Aug. 21 meeting, but the discussion item was removed by officials early on in the meeting via amendment.
Officials chose not to pursue the issue after realizing that Catoosa's fire department would still be unable to provide adequate coverage for the Battlefield Estates area on its own, Catoosa County Attorney Clifton "Skip" Patty said after the meeting.
"We realized, no, we still needed Station 8 to provide coverage in the unincorporated areas of the county, and it just didn't look fair to pull away that money suddenly, when in fact they were still providing coverage to the county," he said. "So we're going to study that issue to see if we can figure out how to equitably pay for fire service throughout the county."
Officials initially believed now would be a good time to revisit the agreement because of the county's fire department growth over the last few years, said Patty.
When Catoosa first initiated the arrangement in 2011, the county was working to transition from a volunteer-based fire department to a department with paid, full-time firefighters. Since then, the Catoosa County Fire Department has seen several improvements, most recent of which include the purchase of six new quick-response vehicles and the addition of full-time staff at its Wood and Keith stations.
Following a recent audit, the Catoosa County Fire Department was given a new ISO rating of 3/3X, a significant improvement over its previous score of 5. The rating measures a department's fire suppression capabilities, with 10 being the lowest score and 1 being the highest. The new score, which takes effect beginning in November, will likely bring lower insurance premiums for residents.
Terminating the agreement made sense because Fort Oglethorpe's fire department has a class 3 ISO rating, with the assumption being that Catoosa's department could now provide basically the same level of fire protection service, Patty explained.
Officials are now going back to the drawing board, and said no action is likely to take place until 2020. With the discussion delayed, emergency response officials from Catoosa, Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold will use the time to look at "overall county strategy" to consider how to proceed and whether resources should be reallocated to adapt to the changes all three areas have seen since the agreement was first made, Patty said.
"We're grateful," said Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Earl Gray. "This way we can sit down at the table. It gives us a year to look at the whole district."