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Habersham County disputes Baldwin’s claims regarding Automatic Aid

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County increasing emergency services staff and shifting resources to cover unincorporated areas near Baldwin 

The following press release was issued late this afternoon by the Habersham County Manager and Board of Commissioners. It seeks to refute claims county officials say were made by Baldwin city officials regarding an Automatic Aid and First Response agreement between the two governments.

Now Habersham has reached out to Baldwin City Administrator Jerry Neace for comment. The information contained in this release has not been independently verified. This is the county’s viewpoint:

On May 15, 2018, Habersham County received notification from the City of Baldwin of their intent to terminate the Agreement of Automatic Aid and First Response, which has been in place since April 7, 2003. The agreement requires a 90-day notice of intent to terminate, making the effective termination date August 12, 2018.

Baldwin has issued an “Official Notice” in recent weeks to citizens and businesses that may be affected by their decision to terminate the Automatic Aid Agreement. However, there are some claims in the notice issued by Baldwin that need to be put in context or corrected.

Paragraph 2 of the “Official Notice” provided by the City of Baldwin states “Multiple attempts to negotiate an agreement with Habersham County have been made without a successful resolution”. There have been no attempts by the City of Baldwin to negotiate an agreement with the County. There has been an offer from the County to begin discussions of several possible resolutions that would satisfy the needs of both parties. That offer was rejected by the Baldwin City Council and their City Administrator.

It is the County’s understanding that Baldwin considered a proposal approximately one year ago for the County to contract for Emergency Services at a cost of $25,000. As a matter of record, the County never received a proposed contract for these services.

In the “Official Notice”, Paragraph 4 insinuates that residents of unincorporated Habersham County will be subject to higher insurance rates due to potential changes in ISO ratings. Per Chief Jeff Cain, Assistant Director of Habersham County Emergency Services/Fire Chief “Habersham County Emergency Services does not believe we will see a degrading of the ISO ratings in the unincorporated area of the County because of Baldwin’s decision to terminate the Automatic Aid Agreement for Fire Service”. Without an automatic aid agreement between Baldwin and Habersham County, both jurisdictions are required by state law to respond under the Mutual Aid Act O.C.G.A. 36-39-3(2)(b). Therefore, no degradation in response by either Habersham County or the City of Baldwin will occur when called upon to provide Mutual Aid in response to fire calls.

Lastly, the County provided a revised “Automatic Aid Agreement” to Baldwin on June 25, 2018 that covers structure fires only. This proposed agreement would ensure that the closest fire station would respond to structure fires regardless of political boundaries. Both Baldwin’s Fire Department and Habersham County’s Emergency Services Department are in favor of this agreement. However, the City Council refused to present it for a vote as it “didn’t address their cost concerns”. Baldwin’s cost concerns have primarily been related to non-structure fire calls. Under the newly proposed agreement, these cost concerns are being addressed in that the County will assume full response to all calls in unincorporated areas that would have been directed to Baldwin beginning August 13, 2018.

Habersham County will continue to provide support to residents in the city of Baldwin when called upon and expects Baldwin will comply with State law and respond to calls in the unincorporated area of the County. During the last three (3) years automatic aid calls for fire service between Baldwin and Habersham County have been equal. In a period from May 1, 2017 through April 30, 2018, the City of Baldwin responded to 21 fire related calls outside city limits. During that same period, Habersham County Fire Department responded to 21 fires inside the city limits of Baldwin.

The safety and protection of the citizens of Habersham County is our number one priority. Fire and Emergency Medical Services are critical services provided by local government, and Baldwin has been an integral part of meeting this need for over 15 years under the Automatic Aid Agreement. In response to Baldwin’s termination of the agreement, the Habersham Board of Commissioners and Emergency Services Department remain committed to ensuring there is no degradation in these critical services. Habersham County is increasing emergency services staff and will move emergency response equipment to the Duncan Bridge Road Fire Station to provide seamless coverage and protection for the citizens and businesses effected by Baldwin’s decision to terminate Automatic Aid.

For additional information, please contact the Habersham County Board of Commissioners Office or the County Manager at 706-839-0200, or Habersham County Emergency Services at 706-839-0570.

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