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Posted: June 10, 2009 12:30 a.m.

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City of Oxford to use Newton fire departments

Expected to cost $36,000/year

After disbanding its volunteer fire department in December, the City of Oxford is in the process of reaching a permanent 50-year agreement to pay Newton County to handle Oxford’s fires.

Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said the move will save Oxford money and provide the citizens with better service. He said Oxford’s volunteer fire service could no longer match the quality of Newton County’s full-time fire department, and the cost of maintaining vehicles and fire equipment and paying for volunteer firefighter’s retirement was too much.

“Our next big expenditure was going to be replacing one fire truck, which is a huge expense,” Roseberry said. “It’s foolish for Oxford to spend half a million dollars on fire equipment, when we have a county that is very progressive. With their improved fire service I feel very comfortable turning over (our fire service) to Newton County.”

Roseberry said that over the last five years the city has paid an average of $50,150 per year, not including the cost to maintain the fire station building and the inability to use the building for other purposes. Under the agreement with the county Oxford will pay around $36,000 per year, Roseberry said. The Board of Commissioners approved the contract on June 2 and the Oxford city council will vote on the contract at their June 15 meeting at 6 p.m. at the Oxford community room.

Oxford will pay for its services by paying 150 percent of the fire district tax, which had a 2008 calendar year millage rate of 0.792. Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said the fire district tax pays for the costs of county volunteer fire stations, six of which remain, and helps pay for capital improvements, large expenses like fire trucks and equipment. Satterfield said the fire district tax is necessary to pay for those expenses, because the general fund can’t cover all of those larger expenses.

All citizens in the unincorporated part of the county pay that fire district tax in addition to unincorporated county taxes. Because Oxford citizens don’t pay for unincorporated county taxes, Oxford will pay an extra 50 percent of the fire district tax, for a total of 150 percent, to make up the difference, Satterfield said.

However, Oxford will not pay any expenses until July 1, 2011, because the city is being credited for the fire trucks and equipment it is giving to the county. Satterdield said the two trucks, a 1993 GMC and a 1985 Hahn, were valued at a combined $30,425 and the rest of the equipment was valued at $40,611, giving Oxford $71,036 in credit, about two years worth of payments.

Satterfield said the county will use its existing stations near Oxford to service the city. He said Station 9 at 176 Mt. Zion Rd. is about 2.7 miles from the outer edge of Oxford and the volunteer station at 3163 Highway 81 North is less than 3 miles from the city limits. Also the headquarters at 11545 Covington Bypass Road is also close to Oxford.

The Oxford volunteer station had about 20 volunteer firefighters and Satterfield said one or two may have become a volunteer at the volunteer station on Highway 81 North.

Roseberry said the city has not decided how to use the old Oxford fire station, but is considering negotiating with Oxford College to use it as a college bookstore that would be open to the public, and would maybe have a coffee shop as well.

In other Oxford news, Oxford will have a new city hall with a new community center within the next 12 months.

Also the city is considering restructuring the government to a city manager structure as the population expands past 2,000.

Roseberry said the active nature of Oxford may require a full-time city manager to meet the demands on local government. The city will debate the restructuring over the next several months.

“The demands on local government now are tremendous,” Roseberry said.

Finally, the city is also going to redo and upgrade its zoning ordinances to allow officials to better enforce property cleanliness.

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