Emotions run strong at Marianna City Commission

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    Mark Skinner | TIMES

    The last item on the agenda at the regular monthly city commission meeting brought emotions from the standing room crowd only. From residents to fire personnel to former commissioners, the prospect of Marianna’s fire station number two brought out emotions.
    City Manager Jim Dean approached the possibility of closing fire station two at the round table session of the January meeting. Tuesday night, that possibility was on the agenda, item number 13F.
    Dean told the commission and those present that the concern was with police and fire salaries needing to be improved and with the constraints of the city budget, he could not see that being a possibility without some changes.
    Dean outlined the agreement between Family Dollar, Jackson County and the city in 2003-2004. That contract/agreement was terminated in December, 2016 with the City left totally responsible for the expenses incurred at the second fire station located at 3990 Kynesville Road. The City had applied for and received a grant from Homeland Security (SAFER) to pay for annual salaries on a declining scale with that now not paying any part of the salaries. Once the Homeland Security Grant was depleted the City was able to get Jackson County to pay 50% of the operational cost associated with Station number two. Dean said that as of now, the City nor the County is under any further contractual obligation to continue to keep Station two open.
    Dean then cited a 35% turnover rate within the Marianna Fire Department. He discussed the ISO ratings and the importance or lack of associated with these ratings. He said that the League of Cities statistics show that cities with a population of 5,000 or less, only 35% provide fire service and this includes cities that use volunteer departments.
    The City of Marianna prior to annexing FCI and Sunland had approximately 6,100 population, as result of annexation of FCI population may be over 7,100, showing that total square miles has increased. Based on current data provided by the American Planners Association and Census Bureau the population of Marianna is declining.
    Dean outlined the salary situation with the fire department, “Salary information provided by the Fire Department Union shows Marianna Fire Department salaries are below average. Staffing data provided as part of Union negotiations show that Marianna Fire Department has a higher staffing than most all cities of similar size. Prior to Family Dollar Project the City of Marianna Fire Department was staffed with one fire chief, one training officer/fire inspector, three shift supervisors, three shift drivers/engineers and three shift firefighters/EMTs.” Dean said the population of Marianna has not changed, except for the additional inmates at FCI and clients at Sunland and with Hurricane Michael the City will be faced with a continued decline in population.
    There was some controversy about the fire assessment fee and reducing it if fire station two closed. Commissioner John Roberts clarified that the assessment fee did not come about as a result of station two but prior to that time.
    Dean outlined the current staffing situation of the fire department, “Based on current staffing which is down by 3 FTE, it is the best time to consider restructuring the fire department. Initially based on staffing today, no one would lose their job. The city would keep the additional staff for minimum of six months.”
    Dean reiterated, “Salary is an important issue. He outlined several incentive-pay opportunities that had not be exercised by employees.
    Dean offered three options with the number one option being his recommendation.

    1. Restructure the Fire Department by closing Station Two and retaining all employees described above.
    2. Reorganize the Fire Department to the size it was prior to Family Dollar. This would create a potential savings in excess of $300,000.00, annually including salary, benefits, overtime, and cost of operating Station Two.
    3. Close Station Two and promote the facility to potentially be used as an Economic Development Project.
    4. Adjust Fire Department Supervisor (Captain), Driver Engineer, and Firefighter EMT salaries, as well as some of the Police Department up to a reasonable and competitive amount.
    5. Eliminate Fire Department response to non-emergency calls and skilled nursing facilities. This is modeled after Niceville and Destin Fire Departments.
      Former commissioner, business and educator Elmore Bryant was the first to address the commission. He was opposed to the closing of station two and offered his assistance in balancing the budget without that having to happen. He stated it was unreasonable for the city to have considered buying out Florida Public Utilities (FPU) on two separate occasions given the city’s financial situation.
      Voncile Williams spoke of the dangers she felt would come about for those in medical need should station two be closed. Jackson County Fire Rescue Lieutenant and Union President Davin Davison addressed the board saying he was against the closing of the station due to the protection that would be lost if that facility was not operational any longer.
      Jerry Dorchuck said before a decision was made, he would like to see notice given to all residents inside the city limits so they could address the commission with pro or con.
      Jerry Moss, Marianna resident and former firefighter with the city told the commission he traveled three counties over to find work that paid him enough to live on. He added he was not in favor of closing station two.
      Firefighter Ted Burdeshaw expressed his concern over his family members being in need of medical attention and no one to answer closer than the Alford Station that is assigned to Jackson County Fire Rescue. He told the commissioners the firefighters were not in that profession for the money or to get rich but to help and serve the people, that they didn’t have the luxury of going home every night to sleep in a nice warm bed and that they missed Christmas, birthdays, and other holidays to be there to protect others.
      Marianna Fire Chief Nicky Lovett spoke and told those present that he was concerned he was only told about the possibility of closing station two one hour prior to the meeting in January and it was while he was out of town on an assignment.
      “Closing this station down means less protection for this side of the City, and we feel like, you know the union stands against that you know we feel the east side deserves as much protection as the west side. This station’s just so much closer to the interstate, to Family Dollar, the west side businesses and residences that are obviously on this side of the city,” said Jeremy O’Bryan, Marianna Professional Firefighters’ President.​
      O’Bryan says Marianna Fire is in a mutual-aide agreement with Jackson County Fire Rescue. Marianna firefighters assist JCFR with structure fires and wildland fires, and vehicle fires often. He also says the advanced trucks at fire station 2 would not fit at fire station 1, leaving them with nowhere to house the engines that they depend on.
      After much discussion, Commission Allen Ward made a motion to table the matter until the March meeting, giving City Manager Jim Dean and Marianna Fire Chief Nicky Lovett time to meet and discuss alternatives to closing the station two. Commissioner Travis Ephriam seconded the motion and it passed 5-0.

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