By Alyssa Schnugg
For the last few years, the Lafayette County Fire Department has been trying to keep up with the growing need for services while battling the rapid decline of available volunteers.
One step was to hire a few full-time paid firefighters to help fill in the gaps. However, that hasn’t helped bring in new, younger firefighters.
To bring down the average age of a county firefighter from 41 to somewhere between 20-35, Lafayette County Fire Coordinator Wes Anderson presented a plan to the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors Friday during a budget meeting.
“We’re looking at providing incentives,” Anderson said.
The department has several volunteers who are college students. However, once they graduate, they may move back to their hometowns or states. Many have a hard time finding affordable housing in Oxford.
Anderson said he’d like to build nine efficiency-style apartments on the west side of the Central Station. Selected volunteers would live there rent-free in exchange for being on call to respond to fires – three per shift.
The estimated cost to build the nine bedrooms, a day room and a conference room is about $450,000, Anderson said.
“I think it’s something we need to do,” he said. “We don’t want to raise taxes to provide more full-time firefighters. There are no other costs other than this capital expense. It’s a no-brainer to me.”
The firefighters would lease the rooms on a month-to-month basis and receive no other compensation other than being allowed to live at the station.
“I don’t dislike the idea,” said Supervisor and board president Jeff Busby.
Anderson said the county’s fire rating may be lowered since they would have more firefighters on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The supervisors took the suggestion under advisement and will consider the request as budget discussions continue over the next several weeks.
Anderson also presented his proposed 2018-2019 budget Friday.
The fire department currently collects 2 mills for fire services, which is about $215,000; however, that could increase as property values were reassessed this year. Other funds come from fire insurance rebates.
The overall budget went down from the 2017-2018 budget – from $1,082,432 to $836,135 since Anderson is not requesting any additional fire trucks for the coming fiscal year.
Also presenting budgets Friday was Building Inspector Joel Hollowell with a proposed $228,182 budget, up from $202,465. Hollowell also presented the $138,853 budget for the Planning Commission.
The supervisors are meeting with department heads this month to go over proposed budgets. Once County Administrator Lisa Carwyle receives the actual revenue from taxes proposed for the next fiscal year, the supervisors will go over each budget again to see what the county can afford to pay for each department.
The supervisors will vote on the county budget in September.