County on notice: Pay up or no fire services

-A A +A
By Alice Du Pont

After more than an hour of discussing the city-county fire contract, Jack McLean, Quincy city manager, was instructed to put the county on notice that if there is no signed contract by April 15 and if the $108,000 the county owes the city is not paid, fire service to the county will be discontinued.

The county's agreement calls for the city to be paid $108,000 quarterly. The county is in arrears and has failed to pay the money that should have been paid in January. Another installment is due April 1. County commissioners don’t have another official meeting until April 7 when the item will probably be on the agenda.

"Why haven't we been paid?" asked Quincy city Commissioner Derrick Elias.

"We've made several requests to get paid. They're saying they aren't going to pay until they have a signed contract," answered McLean.

County Commissioner Sherrie Taylor told city officials in a meeting last month that if they signed the GAP, or temporary contract, the city would be paid. The contract was signed but no funds have been distributed. The most recent contract states that the county will be able to terminate the contract in 30 days. No provisions were made in the contract allowing the city to terminate it. A previous contract, which was never signed, called for both parties to be allowed to terminate the contract with 6 months written notice.

"It doesn't matter if we sign or not, they have no intention of paying us, for whatever reason, and they do it because we take it," Elias said.

Quincy Commissioner Finley Cook, who made the motion to discontinue services, said he only wanted a signed contract for the purpose of crafting an effective city budget. Budget meetings will begin in a few months and city officials said they need to know whether to include the $435,000 from the county in the budget.

The city initially wanted a multi-year contract with the county. But county volunteer fire chiefs recently presented county commissioners with a proposal indicating they could perform equal or better fire services for the same amount of money the county is currently paying the city. The city presented their proposal, citing the quality of service they offer and the historic relationship the two governments shared. Commissioners decided to weigh both proposals and make a decision during one of two April regular meetings.

"I really don't want to sign this (contract) because they are trying to strong-arm us. Not another truck will roll in the county until they come up with our back pay," said Commissioner Keith Dowdell.

Mayor Andy Gay said he had been in favor of giving the county all of the time they needed but had changed his mind.

"I've been a supporter of the county but I do believe they're playing games because of their financial situation. It's March and they haven't paid us and in two weeks it will be a April and they will owe another payment. In two months we'll be in budget meetings. How are we going to budget if we don't have a contract?" Gay asked.

"If certain things don't transpire, we're going to stop our trucks from rolling," Elias said.

McLean asked commissioners to tell him what they want to do and he would make it happen.

"This commission has extended a courtesy above and beyond. If we don't get a check by the 14th, the service stops on the 15th," Cook said.

If discontinued, fire service will stop at the city's boundaries.