In the beginning...
Circa 1975, the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners directed staff to begin to draft fire districts and to plan for expansion. At this time, Clyattville, Southside and Twin Lakes were in operation.
The 1970 Census indicates a total county population of 55,112 residents. By 1980, the total population would increase by twenty-three percent.
During this time, the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners would assist the three volunteer stations with some resources and capital purchases in an effort to help them remain independent of the county.
Ongoing expansion included plans for more stations as Bemiss-Barretts was the fourth station established. Fire districts were completed, county staff solicited land for the purpose of building additional stations and metal buildings went up at a cost of $10,000.00, per station.
An so it went...
In 1994, Lowndes County hired a Fire Services Coordinator for the purpose of service consolidation. It wasn’t until a second coordinator was hired in 2000, that this was accomplished, and an agreement between all existing fire districts and Lowndes County was reached.
This action established the District Chief positions and titled the Fire Services Coordinator, Lowndes County Fire Rescue’s first Fire Chief. In response to the fire districts agreeing to consolidation, Lowndes County committed the funding required to provide the service to the unincorporated area.
Consolidation eliminated the need for the former fire districts to raise money to support their efforts. Further, volunteers began to receive training pay. Commissioners found efficiency in providing one service county-wide, instead of addressing the needs of each station as they might arise and often without notice.
The population of Lowndes County has more than doubled since 1970. However, Lowndes County did not begin to fully fund fire as a service until nearly 30 years later.
Shortly after, House Bill 489 was passed by the General Assembly. As a result, funding of fire services in the unincorporated area was restricted to unincorporated revenue other than property taxes via the first Service Delivery Strategy Agreement between Lowndes County and the Cities.
Residential growth in the unincorporated area has created an environment in which some residents expect a level of service similar to a more densely populated urban area. While most services organically expand with growth, the associated property tax base is not available to fund the expansion of fire services in the unincorporated area.
This being the case, Lowndes County is faced with reconciling an expectation of service with available funding -or- with determining a new funding mechanism for fire protection in the unincorporated area.