Hawthorne wants county fire service, but county still wants its money back
Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 10:42 p.m.
A $52,275 Hawthorne debt will not be forgiven by the Alachua County Commission in return for the city levying a county municipal tax for fire services, commissioners said Tuesday.
County commissioners dismissed the proposal during a discussion with Hawthorne Mayor Deloris Roberts and city attorney Steve Lee over a proposed fire service agreement.
"It seems to me we just don't have a deal," Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said. "I don't remember that forgiving the debt was part of the agreement."
The twist is the latest in a long history of fire issues between the county and Hawthorne. The city used to pay the county for fire service. It fell behind on payments and later reached an agreement to pay off the debt.
In the meantime, the county increased the cost for service, saying its costs had risen.
Hawthorne responded by starting its own fire department. It had earlier started its own police department.
But Hawthorne learned it was facing a $200,000 deficit by the end of the fiscal year in September because of the police and fire departments. Hawthorne commissioners voted to disband both and to begin levying the municipal tax the county charges to unincorporated property owners for law enforcement and fire.
The city and the county are now trying to reach an agreement for the county to again provide fire service in Hawthorne.
One issue is the debt. Another concerns the fire station - the city owns the station and wants to lease it to the county for $1 a year while the county fire department wants ownership.
"We are being asked to give away a $300,000 asset for no consideration," Lee said.
Alachua County Fire Chief Ed Bailey countered that county ownership will ensure that any necessary repairs are made promptly.
"Going back, there were times when we were in the building and we couldn't get it repaired because funding wasn't available," Bailey said.
The two sides agreed to continue negotiations. County officials will inspect the building to determine what, if any, repairs may be needed.
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