COVINGTON, Ga. – When the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties meets Tuesday for its regularly scheduled meeting, one of the topics on the agenda will be the best way to provide fire and EMS for the Stanton Springs both short and long term.
The conversation comes on the heels of a nearly two-hour special called Nov. 19 meeting on the same topic. It comes as Shire is ramping up to full production and construction continues on Facebook’s new data center along Shire Parkway.
The majority of the Shire facility lies in unincorporated Walton County while the Facebook data center will be in Newton County.
The discussion comes as a result of a Walton County decision to stop paying the city of Social Circle $52,000 annually to provide fire and EMS service in the unincorporated southeastern part of the county where Shire is located.
Among the ideas is for the JDA pay the $52,000 to Social Circle for the city’s fire department to respond exclusively to Shire outside of the city’s limits. The plan is supported by the Social Circle City Council who recently approved a contract for the city’s fire department to serve as first responders for Shire.
Walton County is building a fire station at Hard Labor Creek State Park to cover the rest of that part of the county.
Jeff Carter, head of Shire’s Emergency Response Team, said the company supports the JDA’s funding of Social Circle’s fire and emergency response to the facility. Social Circle Fire has been the primary first responder to Shire historically.
“There are certain burdens that we bring with us as a facility,” he said. “That being the case, we want to be a solution to that. Everything we’ve done has been geared in that direction. We depend on all of the outside agencies, all of the communities working together to provide that service.
“Our concerns were first elevated when we found out that we might not have everybody on the same playing field. And that’s really all it was at the time, just a concern that we might not have everybody there. Our goal has been to turn around and come back to the JDA and say how can we get everybody back on the same playing field. That’s really what we’re wanting to do.
“Our hope and understanding is that when we say that we back the JDA in their decision to go out and contract with Social Circle, we hope that’s how it was interpreted and nothing else. The hope is that we can get everybody back on the same page so that we can really start looking at a long-term solution.”
Newton County Fire Chief Michael Conner said his department will support Walton County fire in responses to Shire through mutual aid and automatic aid agreements between the two counties.
“We have worked very closely with Walton County since they’ve got most of the building and they are the jurisdiction having authority, Newton County will support Walton,” he said. “Once the parkway is extended, we’re going to be willing to assist Morgan County in that area also.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our interdepartmental agreements on automatic aid and mutual aid agreements to Stanton Springs. Not just Shire, but Stanton Springs."
Conner said that he and Walton County Fire Chief Mike Moore have been working on response plans for Stanton Springs for several months.
“We’ve been working on it steadily or three or four months about response plans down to Stanton Springs,” he said. “Newton County, right now, with Facebook going in, we’ve got it, we’ve got a very small portion of Shire. I think that as they plan to build out, all of Shire’s land will be in Newton County. We’re going to be there. We can support not only Newton County, but through our aid agreements, we are more than happy to be able to assist not only Walton but Morgan County as Stanton Springs grows."
Conner said the closest Newton County station to Shire is number 15 on Harris Springs Church Road, 4.9 miles away. He said with Station 15’s ease of access to Interstate 20, its response time to Shire within a minute or so of Social Circle's Station 17’s response.
“We’re willing to support Walton and Morgan as development spreads out in those jurisdictions,” he said. “I think with our auto aid agreements, Stanton Springs should not really see somebody saying that they’re not covered.”
Authority members discussed hiring a consultant to explore the possibility of developing a fire district for Stanton Springs and constructing a fire station.
“A long-term solution that involves more resources is a must,” Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County, said. “Because a large company like a Shire or a Facebook going into part of our park that has a volunteer fire department isn’t going to cut it.”
The Authority will meet Tuesday, Nov. 27, at the Covington Airport at 3 p.m.
David Clemons and Andrew Kenneson, of The Walton Tribune, contributed to this report.