County stands firm on fire protection figure

By JESSICA WALDON
The Natchez Democrat
NATCHEZ -- Two days ago, Natchez aldermen voted to allow Mayor F.L. "Hank" Smith to work on an interlocal fire protection agreement with Adams County officials.

But on Thursday, the Board of Supervisors decided to offer the city only the amount of money the board had already appropriated for fire protection for the fiscal year, according to board Vice President Darryl Grennell.

"We have agreed we will not increase, we are going to maintain what we have appropriated, and it is up to them to make a decision," Grennell said.

While the city did not request a specific amount from the county, City Attorney Walter Brown said Tuesday providing fire protection outside the city limits costs the city more than half a million dollars.

Fire Chief Paul Johnson said about 30 to 40 percent of the fire department's calls are out of the city. Aldermen decided Tuesday that if an agreement could not be reached by Oct. 1, the county would be given 30 days' notice and the city would no longer respond to out-of-city calls.

In an executive session that lasted well into Thursday afternoon, the board authorized President Lynwood Easterling to send city officials a letter letting them know the board appropriated about $454,000 for fire protection and that is how much the board will pay. "We can't afford to increase it any more," Grennell said.

The figure is based on the board's normal appropriation and a consumer price index for inflation as well, Grennell said. "The city, from what I understand, wants the county to pay (about) $615,000 for fire protection, which I think is ridiculous," he said.

At this point, Grennell said the city can accept or reject the county's allocation.

"If not, we are going to continue with our protection for the citizens outside the corporate limits, and we are going to do what has to be done to provide all of our residents with proper fire protection," Grennell said.