BRYAN COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - For months, there have been rumors that Bryan County and Richmond Hill could consolidate their fire services. However, the two municipalities are not on good terms.
The City of Richmond Hill is currently suing the county for a tax hike on city residents, claiming Bryan County is taxing residents and using that money for county services that city residents do not benefit from like trash pickup and fire services.
In spite of the lawsuit, Fire Department consultant Skip Starling thinks the time might be right for the merger.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen them actually take a serious look at it,” said Skip Starling, Director of National Fire Services Offices.
Starling previously consulted with both Bryan County Fire and Richmond Hill Fire Department. In his professional opinion, he said merging could lower costs and lower response times.
“This is not an issue where one is going to pick up the other. They are both strong departments now,” Starling said. “You are going to find if they were pulled together, they would operate a whole lot more efficiently.”
Comparing Bryan County Fire and Richmond Hill Fire side by side shows off their personal strengths. Richmond Hill has a better Insurance Service Office rating or ISO rating. It determines how high your homeowner insurance could be based on variables like response times.
One is the lowest or best rating any department can get with 10 being the worst. Richmond Hill Fire has a score of three with Bryan County’s score at five.
On the other hand, Bryan County Fire and EMS employees more first responders with a larger 2018 operating budget.
Bryan County Board of Commissioners Chairman, Carter Infinger, said they are ready to start the discussions, but not before they get professional advice.
“Until we get a consultant to look at it, and until we can sit down and talk about it, which we want to do, we really don’t know,” said Infinger.
Mayor of Richmond Hill, Russ Carpenter, said with the ongoing lawsuit, the city is not ready yet.
“Any consolidation considerations can only happen after service delivery strategy mediation is completed," Carpenter said. "Richmond Hill will always be a fair partner with Bryan County but there are many issues to resolve.”
Fire Department Consultant Skip Starling has seen many mergers through and said it can be done.
“Disclosure is everything if this is going to work. They have to have 100 percent clarity," Starling said. "This is one of those deals where everyone has to know who’s on first base and who’s on second.
Effingham County elected leaders know how these consolidation talks start, because they were starting them when Springfield Fire merged with Effingham. Effingham Fire Chief Clint Hodges said this especially changes the response unity. Instead of searching for mutual aid or deciding who is in charge, all firefighters are already working together.
“You have that larger pool of resources immediately available. You have everyone operating on the same sheet of music,” Hodges said. “Everyone is going to be a little bit different. What works for Effingham doesn’t necessarily work for another county.”
Springfield and Effingham Fire will celebrate their fourth year merged in July.
WTOC will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest updates.