LIBERTY — After months of meetings, discussions and negotiations, the controversial decision to transfer Liberty’s Fire Department to the county seems to finally have been sorted out.
“This was a big deal,” said County Council Chairman Roy Costner. “Everyone was bringing ideas to the table but a lot of the times it takes a while to weed through them all to come to a consensus.”
Although this was only the first reading of the ordinance to turn the department over, the motion was passed unanimously by Liberty’s City Council and is expected to sail unchallenged through the next two readings.
Costner said the process took time because an idea was presented first, didn’t necessarily mean it was the best one.
“You’ll have a list of like 20 things presented,” he said. “In that case most people will focus on ideas one through four — but if it’s idea 18 that’s the best one, you need to be open to that.”
According to Liberty Mayor Eric Boughman, the plan that was hammered out is a “win-win-win” — good for residents, the city and the county. It has also, in the Mayor’s words, been a long time coming.
“Fire department consolidation has been discussed many times through the years but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen,” said Boughman. “We have been entrenched in a partnership with the county — an agreement in which the county owns the majority of the equipment and we provide the manpower and take care of the day to day expenses and the equipment upkeep.”
Months ago, as the city found itself in the midst of a serious financial crunch, the idea to consolidate the fire department was once again placed back on the table.
We went back to the county and proposed a new plan, said Boughman.
The original plan called for a $156 fire fee for residents in the Liberty fire district, job security assured for the current fire fighters and for residents to see no change in their level of fire protections.
That’s basically what they got.
In a meeting with City Administrator Shirley Hughes, Fire Chief Chris Rowland, Boughman, Costner and others, the agreement was made. In the final draft, the city would impose a $120 fire fee, all three fire departments would remain staffed 24/7 and the public would see no change in service.
“Ten of our 11 (fire) employees will be staying at Liberty Fire,” said Boughman. “However he (number 11) along with the other 10 will have more room for advancement, better pay, better benefits and will keep their tenure on with the county.”
The city of Liberty will also be paying the firefighters out for all accumulated vacation time.
In all, Boughman said the city will save around $300,000 a year with move and will be in a better position to move forward financially.
“No one has thought about this or worked on it any more,” he said. “And now I as a Mayor and we as a City Council put our trust into the County, that they’re going to take care of our people that we’re sending them … They’re going to take Liberty Fire and they’re going to make it even better.”