OXFORD - The Oxford City Council voted this week to disband the city's volunteer fire department, with Newton County Fire Services to take over.
"Newton County is providing first responder service as we speak and that will not change. The only thing that's going to change is our department will stand down and Newton County will be the sole responder," Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said.
The council agreed to disband the department at a special called meeting Monday following several months of discussions with Newton County, Roseberry said.
"We did that simply because Newton County has progressed so much in recent years," he said. "They have a real quality operation in terms of equipment and personnel training. They do a much better job than we can do on our own. We're not unhappy with the volunteers. We're upgrading our service."
An intergovernmental agreement was brought before the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night, but was tabled pending a review from the Financial Department.
As the agreement stands now, the county will take over ownership of the city's fire equipment and trucks and will credit that toward payment for services. The city will not pay anything for two-and-a-half years.
Beginning in July 2011, Oxford would be required to pay a portion of its fire insurance premium tax, similar to agreements the county has with Newborn and Mansfield.
In 2008, Oxford received $105,000 in fire insurance premium taxes, according to Roseberry. Because the city receives substantially more than the other municipalities, it would likely only be required to pay a portion of the tax, equal to the fire district tax that other municipalities pay, said Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield.
"We want to make sure they're paying for the services the taxpayers in the unincorporated county are paying for," Satterfield said.
If a station is built within the city, the agreement will be revisited, he said.
The city is spending $36,000 to run the volunteer department, Roseberry said, adding that whatever costs the city would incur by turning over the service should be more than paid for through the fire insurance premium tax.
"There will be no increase in taxes. We're just going to divert funds from one direction to another and out of that we will get tremendously improved service for the city, including (Oxford) College," he said.
The city did not include the fire department in its 2009 budget, meaning it will shut down no later than December 31, Roseberry said.
The current station is not suitable for housing full-time firefighters, but there is a possibility a station could be opened within city limits in the future, Satterfield said.
The closest station to Oxford is a volunteer station on Ga. Highway 81, which is 2.5 miles away. A full-time station is located 3.2 miles away on Mt. Zion Road.
Oxford has had a volunteer fire department for "several decades," and has about 20 volunteers, Roseberry said.
All will be offered the chance to apply for positions with the county, Satterfield said.
Commissioners are expected to take up the issue again in January following a review by the county's Finance Department.
The county already provides fire services for Newborn, Mansfield and Porterdale, which also maintains a volunteer department.