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Annexation puts delay on county, city fire station

POSTED: February 20, 2014 5:45 p.m.

The deal between Effingham County and the city of Rincon to place a fire station off Blue Jay and McCall roads may be delayed.

County commissioners, uneasy with the city’s request to annex the entire 66-acre tract it bought with the aim of placing a fire station there, asked Mayor Ken Lee if the Rincon City Council would consider annexing much less of the property it purchased late last year.

In a 3-1-0 vote, with Commissioner Steve Mason abstaining and Commissioner Reggie Loper voting against the measure, county commissioners opted to table the fire station agreement and the city’s annexation request to the March 4 meeting.

“I can’t see annexing the whole property,” said commission Chairman Wendall Kessler. “It’s the precedent it sets down the road for other things, and this could create problems.”

“Those parts that you sell off will not be contiguous,” Kessler said.  “I don’t have a problem with y’all annexing the fire station.”

Lee said the city will attempt to sell the portion of the tract it doesn’t use for the fire station. The mayor also cautioned that there is no guarantee the city can sell the remainder of the land.

The city and county have been working on a deal to place a fire station on approximately five acres. The city bought about 66 acres of land, just before it was going to be auctioned, with the goal of establishing a fire station there. The land sits less than a mile from the Rincon city limits.

While commissioners acknowledged they wouldn’t have such a question if the land was contiguous to Rincon’s border, that the tract isn’t close to the city limits unsettled them.

“I don’t want to create an island of 66 acres out there,” Mason said. “For us to be annexing 66 acres for the purpose of a fire station? I have a big question with that. We’ll have a small city. We don’t need 66 acres for a fire station.”

The proposed station is on a five-acre parcel, and Commissioner Reggie Loper voiced his objection to the annexation.

“The 4 ISO rating is good for anybody who lives between the two fire departments,” he said. “But there are all kinds of property owners in Effingham County who don’t have an 8 or a 9 (ISO). They don’t have anything.”

Loper also said there were commissioners who opposed the Goshen Road fire station and Rincon also opposed the construction of that station.

“Now you want to do the same thing all over again,” he said.

Commissioner Vera Jones said the questions about the Goshen station aren’t the same as the ones over the Blue Jay Road station.

“The difference is that was $1.5 million and nobody improved in ISO. Here, there is virtually no cost, a building is ready and 300 residents will benefit,” she said.

Under the proposal, the county would pay the city $135,780 annually for the operational costs of the Blue Jay station and annual increases in the county’s payment are capped at 3 percent.

Commissioners agreed Dec. 17 to the concept of a Blue Jay Road station on the city’s property.

Lee read a letter from Rincon city manager Wesley Corbitt outlining the city’s wish to annex the entire 66 acres, which the city bought six months ago for $325,000. Corbitt noted he was pleased at the new spirit of cooperation between the city and the county.

“We have the opportunity to work together for better fire protection and ISO rating for a significant portion of Effingham County,” Corbitt wrote.

The proposed Blue Jay station, less than five miles from the city’s headquarters station off West 17th Street, is expected to give 300 residences better fire coverage and at a lower cost to the county than can a station built on Hodgeville Road. While the Blue Jay Road station is seen by county staff as a short-term solution, there is also a push to study the county’s ISO strategy and station placement. County officials also discussed a potential station near the Greystone subdivision on Blue Jay Road, closer to the intersection with Midland Road.

Jones said what she liked about the proposal was the ability to share rosters — both the city and the county fire departments rely heavily on volunteers — between Blue Jay and Greystone stations.

“So there is a mutual benefit in there,” she said.

Annexation questions
But the city says it needs to annex the property in order for the station to be on city-owned property and to count toward its ISO rating. The city currently has a rating of 4 and the lower the ISO, the cheaper homeowners’ fire insurance premiums are.

“This is only available if the station is within the city limits of Rincon,” Corbitt said. “Therefore, there is a need for annexation. The ability to share rosters is dependent on the continuance of a station at Blue Jay and McCall and that continuance is dependent upon annexation.”

Corbitt also pointed out in his letter that the city is absorbing the cost of the purchase of the land and the building to be used for the station and will establish a 24-hour firefighter at the facility.

He also wrote that he has heard the concern expressed about spot annexation and agreed it should be avoided when there isn’t a mutual benefit.

“But with this station, there is a mutual financial benefit and an improvement in resident services and cost of services,” he said. “The opportunity for the city and the county to work together for the highest service at the lowest cost fits these criteria.”

Lee said the city council was of the mind to annex the entire tract, since the city owned it.

“But they may be open to discussion,” he said. “Their thought is we own the property, and we want it annexed. We see a benefit here for all of us. If there was a spot annexing with no real purpose or benefit, then yes, I would have to question it.”

Kessler added it was his understanding the city sought to annex the property from its city limits at Ninth Street to the railroad tracks at the Blue Jay-McCall intersection. Lee acknowledged there has been conversation about that.

Spirit of cooperation
Both city and county officials expressed satisfaction that the two entities appear to be improving their ability to work together.

“What I do like is there is a new spirit of cooperation between Rincon’s fire department and the county at this point,” Kessler said. “Because of this, we are going to be far ahead of where we would have been.”

Said Lee: “I think this is an opportunity to coordinate our efforts.”

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