Though Lamar County set aside funds to negotiate with Paris Fire Department for an agreement for assistance, negotiations have not yet started, city and county officials say.
In August, former fire chief Mike Vogel proposed an agreement to provide the county with four Paris firefighters to assist volunteer fire departments in fighting structure fires.
The discussions are being postponed until a new city manager and fire chief are hired, following the resignation of former city manager John Godwin, and the departure of former fire chief Mike Vogel this month, Interim City Manager and Paris Finance Director Gene Anderson said.
“We’re not going to be advancing on this issue until at least the first of next year,” Anderson said. “We’re just now starting the city manager search, which should take three to four months. And when they start, they’ll handle the fire chief search.”
Anderson also said he doesn’t foresee an agreement being reached.
“Based on the amount they budgeted for negotiations, I feel like there’s not much worth discussing,” he said. “It just wasn’t enough to be financially feasible for us.”
When setting the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget, the Lamar County Commissioners’ Court decided to seek a contract including both Paris EMS and Paris Fire Department, using $125,000 from the general fund for negotiations with the fire department.
This brought the total amount budgeted for the contract to $500,000. Currently, Lamar County contracts for services with Paris EMS for $375,000.
County auditor Kayla Hall said that if negotiations fall through and a deal with Paris Fire Department cannot be reached, the $125,000 will sit in the budget, unable to be used until next year, and the contract with Paris EMS will remain at $375,000.
When Vogel presented the initial proposal to the commissioners, however, the proposed cost was set at $248,351.
Initially deemed too expensive to pursue by County Judge Brandon Bell, the commissioners ultimately voted 3-2 to set aside the $125,000 for negotiations, with commissioners Ronnie Bass, Lawrence Malone and Kevin Anderson supporting the allocation, and Bell and Commissioner Lonnie Layton opposed.
Bass, who also serves as a member of the Hopewell Volunteer Fire Department, supports an agreement with Paris, as he said there are often insufficient firefighters who show up to fires in the county.
“I think this’ll be huge if it works out, both for the safety of the firefighters themselves and the citizens,” Bass previously told The Paris News.
“Right now, you’re not guaranteed how many firefighters will show up to a call out in the county… and with this, the response time might be a bit longer if they have to go all the way out into the county, but there’s still somebody coming.”
Bell could not be reached for comment by press time.