County takes over Oxford fire service

OXFORD - County commissioners on Tuesday night approved an intergovernmental contract to take over fire services for the city of Oxford.

Oxford's volunteer fire department was disbanded in December, according to Mayor Jerry Roseberry, and Newton County Fire Services has been handling all calls since that time.

The contract approved Tuesday night simply makes the takeover official, he said.

"I believe this will be good for the county and certainly good for Oxford. Our people will get first-class service provided by well-trained people with good equipment," Roseberry told commissioners.

Roseberry said the volunteer department is no longer able to afford the necessary equipment or provide adequate training for staff to cover the city.

"There was a time when Oxford's volunteer service was as good as Newton County's service. Now Newton County has improved the quality of its service," he said, adding that one of his goals when he took office was to improve public safety.

Oxford has been paying about $50,150 per year for the last five years to support its fire department, Roseberry said. Under the agreement with Newton County, he estimates that cost will drop to about $36,000 per year.

The result will be "better quality service at a lower cost," Roseberry said.

"It's not that we don't appreciate what the volunteers did. Things change, and it's time to move on," he said.

The 50-year contract stipulates that Oxford will pay an annual fee of 150 percent of the Newton County fire district tax, based on Oxford's current tax digest.

The county will purchase the vehicles and equipment owned by the Oxford Fire Department, including two fire trucks, and will credit that amount back to the city as payment. As a result, Oxford's first payment to the county will not be due until July 1, 2011.

The fire department had about 20 volunteers, who all have the opportunity to apply for jobs with Newton County, Roseberry said.

Newton County Fire Services Deputy Chief Tim Smith said some Oxford volunteers have already taken positions there.

He said the department should be able to cover the city with the staff it currently has, noting there are three stations nearby: Station No. 9 on Mt. Zion is 2.2 miles from Oxford city limits; Station No. 8, a volunteer station on Ga. Highway 81 North, is within about 2.5 miles; and Station No. 1 off Covington Bypass is 3.3 miles away.

He added that Newton County Fire has been providing mutual aid to the city for years.

Roseberry said the Oxford City Council is in favor of the county taking over the fire service and is expected to approve the contract at a special called meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. June 15 at Oxford Community Center.