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Split vote OKs annexation, fire station

POSTED: March 6, 2014 8:05 p.m.

Effingham County commissioners approved allowing Rincon to annex 66 acres, following a split vote and questions for Rincon city officials.

Commissioners Forrest Floyd, Vera Jones and Phil Kieffer voted to approve the annexation, while commissioners Steve Mason and Reggie Loper opposed the move. The city, which bought the land off Blue Jay and McCall roads late last year, has pledged to build a fire station on five acres on the tract that now has been annexed. A building on the land is believed to be suitable to accommodate a fire station.

But the land isn’t contiguous to the city limits, meaning it doesn’t touch any of the city’s boundaries. That worried commissioners who opposed the annexation.

“I’ve been against it,” Loper said. “I am for the fire station. But I won’t vote for annexation.”

Rincon City Manager Wesley Corbitt said the deal will lower ISO ratings and be more cost-effective for the city and the county.
Corbitt reiterated the city’s intention to sell the land.

“We’re not sure what part we’ll sell, what part we’ll keep,” he said.

Mason offered a hypothetical situation, in which a waste company could contract with the city to turn some of the tract into a landfill, without the county having any control or say-so.

“The fire station is a good idea,” Mason said. “But the potential problems are huge.”

Under the agreement for the fire station, the county will pay Rincon $11,314 a month to support a 24-hour firefighter at the location.

“There are some wonderful opportunities down the road if we expand fire service in the south end,” Corbitt said.

“We think it’s a great agreement for everybody.”

County commission Chairman Wendall Kessler expressed his support for collaboration on issues shared by the city and county.
“I do believe in the good spirit of cooperation,” Kessler said.

But the chairman also indicated he was not aware of the city’s wish to annex the entire tract until late into the negotiations. The fire station proposal pushed the county ahead of its own schedule for spending money, he said.

Kessler also said after the meeting he would have voted against the annexation. The chairman’s voting is restricted and he was not able to cast a vote on the matter.

“I didn’t know annexation was part of it until late in the game,” he said.

Kessler added he hoped Rincon council members would agree to annex the five acres for the station and not ask to annex the remainder of the tract.

“The annexation then threw a curve in it,” he said. “I am not for non-contiguous annexation.”

Part of the land annexed is slated to be included in a re-working of the Blue Jay-McCall intersection. Rincon leaders have said they are willing to cede that small portion to the county.

“My only concern is the road,” said Floyd.

Floyd also said the city could annex the rest of the land later if it sought to annex only the fire station property. He also asked Mason to explain the problem with annexation.

“Just tell me what the big deal is,” Floyd said.

“It’s what’s going to happen on this property,” Mason replied.

Mason voiced his support for a fire station in that area. But the annexation of the entire tract troubled him. He also pointed out that other areas of the county can’t get fire insurance.

“There needs to be a station down there,” he said. “Other than annexation, I’m OK with it.”

With the station, which is expected to be manned 24 hours a day, ISO ratings for approximately 300 homes are expected to drop to a class 4. ISO ratings are used to establish homeowners’ fire insurance rates.

ISO ratings will go to a 4 for homeowners in the Burnt Tree subdivision and in Lowcountry Estates, according to Rincon Fire Chief Corey Rahn, because of the Blue Jay station.

“We can have a mutual benefit,” Jones said. “In my opinion, it warrants an exception to spot annexation. It benefits a large gap of residents we have been planning to cover.”

The county has a three-year deal with the city to operate the station and can back out of the deal with a one-year’s notice.

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