County Votes to Hire Fire Chief

The Worth County Board of Commissioners last met on Thursday, August 18. The lengthy meeting began with county extension coordinator Larry Varnado introducing the new 4H agent for Worth County, Lauren Burdine. Then, a Warwick resident stepped forward to personally thank the board for the opening of Station 14 in Warwick.
The man also offered good news to the commissioners as he noted that the Warwick City Council recently voted to award a one-time payment to the fire department of $30,000. Additionally, the man stated that the City of Warwick agreed to maintain the equipment and facility.
Next, Chairman Mike Cosby called Tax Commissioner Tabitha DuPriest to address the board. The tax commissioner request a vehicle for her office to use for the purpose of surveying property. DuPriest stated that her department had over $22,000 in an account. As Mrs. DuPriest was discussing the cars that she would like to purchase with these funds, Commissioner Bettye Bozeman asked the tax commissioner why this money was not in the revenue for the county.
The funds were apparently collected, in large part, from restitution paid by Janice Williamson and non-sufficient funds charges. The tax collector’s office has been receiving payments from Mrs. Williamson since 2002. Dupriest asked the board to drop the charges and drop the restitution against the woman.
The tax commissioner also cited that since she began making payments towards the balance of over $13,000, Williamson has only managed to pay back less than $5,000 in 12 years. According to Dupriest, the woman also served time in jail and probation for stealing from the county before she was ordered to pay restitution.
After hearing the proposal, Commissioner Bettye Bozeman said she did not agree with letting someone who stole from the county go free, no matter how long it took to pay the money back. Then, the tax commissioner cited a spreadsheet showing every payment received from Williamson. The first payment was for the sizeable sum of $1,100. Since then however, it has been a sporadic series of checks in random amounts, usually less than $100 per payment.
While the money would usually be put back into the general fund after reaching a certain amount, Dupriest asked again that money be used instead to purchase a vehicle for her office. Chairman Mike Cosby asked the tax commissioner to send out a bid request for vehicles and the board would discuss the matter further at the next meeting on October 7.
Commissioner Bozeman stated that the county has recently had difficulties making payroll for the county employees, and she could not see purchasing a new vehicle if there were additional funds. Still, Commissioner Joe Gaines motioned to allow Dupriest to submit bids on the vehicle as the monies in the account were not part of the budget. After a second by Commissioner Ken Hall, the motion passed.
Moving along with the agenda, the board tabled a SPLOST application for $80,000 to improve Sumner Road. Under “Old Business,” the board also discussed a proposed agreement with the City of Poulan to provide inmate housing in the Worth County Jail. Sheriff Jeff Hobby said the jail could only support 44 inmates. If the jail was at maximum capacity, there would be no way to take additional inmates from Poulan. After hearing from the sheriff, all voted in favor of the agreement.
However, the board did not approve a second jail inmate agreement between the City of Poulan and Worth County because the county was unsure as to the amount that Poulan would pay to house the inmates. According to the sheriff, it costs $43 per day to keep an inmate in the jail.
Under new business, the county approved a SPLOST application to repave cutouts on a number of county roads. Next, the chairman stated that the county needed to reimburse an insurance company for a vehicle that was damaged and left off of the insurance policy. With little discussion of the matter, the commissioners voted unanimously to repay $3,453.25 to PGCS Insurance.
Once all of the items on the agenda had been covered, Chairman Cosby began his report by again suggesting that the county hire a fire chief. After looking into ISO and the process of lowering insurance rates while ensuring better fire protection for Worth residents, the chairman concluded that hiring a chief would be the best option for WCFR at this time.
After stating that he would like to see the chief hired before the end of the year, Cosby outlined possibilities for funding the chief’s salary. After a motion and a second was offered, Commissioner Ken Hall stated that the county has been operating without a county administrator, and the need for an administrator outweighed the need for a fire chief. Furthermore, Hall said the three captains currently in place at WCFR are doing a fantastic job. He also stated that the reason the captains were stressed is because they are being micromanaged by the chairman.
Commissioner Bozeman also said the department has operated better under the leadership of the three captains than the department ever ran under any of the previous chiefs. She also said that Captain Ray Salter was the county’s point of contact for ISO communications, and the chairman’s discussion of ISO was more proof that the fire department is being micromanaged. In the end, Billy McDonald, Joe Gaines, and the chairman all voted in favor of hiring a chief and the motion passed.
Commissioner Ken Hall also mentioned ISO ratings during his report. Apparently there has been some confusion concerning information received from ISO, so Hall motioned to make Captain Salter the main contact for ISO in Worth County. The motion also passed.
The Worth County Board of Commissioners will hold their next monthly work session on Tuesday, October 7, at 7:00pm. The meeting will be held on the third floor of the courthouse.