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Augusta Regional Airport, Augusta Fire Department dispute over fire response continues

Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 7:48 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 1:48 AM
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A yearlong legal dispute between Augusta Fire Department and Augusta Regional Airport aired some dirty laundry Monday after Augusta Commission member Donnie Smith raised the issue in a committee meeting.

Fire Chief Chris James wants all resources dispatched.  SARA CALDWELL/FILE
SARA CALDWELL/FILE
Fire Chief Chris James wants all resources dispatched.

Fire Chief Chris James said he first determined that fire response was an issue at the airport during a routine alarm test more than a year ago. The call never reached Augusta 911, and instead showed up as a voicemail on the airport fire chief’s cellphone, James told commissioners at a Monday committee meeting.

Since then, attorneys for the city and the airport have been attempting to document who’s in charge when an incident arises but have yet to agree on a plan. Smith said he put the item on Monday’s agenda so commissioners and the public would be aware.

“I don’t want the public at risk, and I simply want to have this fixed,” Smith said.

While Augusta’s charter specifies the fire chief is lead firefighter for the consolidated government, Airport Director Gary LeTellier said the city had designated the Augusta Aviation Commission as authority over the airport, not the commission, while federal laws govern fire protocol at the airport because of its role in interstate commerce.

“I don’t know how to put this delicately, but you don’t have the final say,” LeTellier said. “The federal airline administration has the final say.”

James said he had “nothing against the airport” but it only has two foam trucks and all resources should be dispatched to an incident until it is determined they are not needed.

Commissioners pointed to the need to resolve the issue Monday.

“I’m going to put my fireman hat back on,” said Commissioner Marion Williams, a former firefighter. “Especially when you’re talking about something that get as hot as jet fuel… We ought to be mindful enough to understand the seriousness of this.”

Commissioner Alvin Mason, who is running for mayor, said the city and airport ought to work together. “I hope it’s not an issue, a power struggle on anybody’s part,” he said. “Our main focus should be that our citizens are safe.”

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who appointed airport commission chairman Doug Lively to his post, said despite the disagreement things have been running smoothly at the airport.

“They’re held by a different set of rules,” Guilfoyle said.

LeTellier called the situation “an embarrassment” and said it was “not fair to characterize the airport as obstructionist” in the yearlong exchange.

Commissioners took no action on the dispute during committee meetings Monday but agreed to discuss it later.

IN OTHER ACTION

In other action Monday, Augusta Commission members:

• Took no action on the 2014 budget, which is not yet balanced, but appeared to agree with City Administrator Fred Russell’s proposal to levy a 2 percent excise tax on energy used in manufacturing, explore 2.4 percent department-level cuts and rely on savings to fill the rest of a $7.9 million deficit, but hold off until mid-fiscal year to decide whether to award employees a cost-of-living adjustment or raise taxes.

• Agreed to a Dec. 3 public hearing on amending Augusta’s Tax Allocation District 1 to remove 1,098 parcels to form a downtown TAD 4. Like Tax Increment Financing in other states, TADs allow tax increments collected over baseline values resulting from new development to be spent in support of the development and not elsewhere. Special City Counsel Jim Plunkett said by forming the new TAD this year, its baseline values will be set at 2013 levels. Questioned about the return on the TAD, Plunkett said a renovated hotel downtown will get $600,000 from the TAD but is investing $6 million, a 10-to-one return.

• Heard a request from Anthony King and Niki Watson for 10 percent of the proceeds of Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s recent auction of seized or surrendered weapons to fund a youth gun violence program. The auction generated more than $300,000 for the general fund, Russell said. Watson said her group’s gun buy-back program had contributed 62 weapons to the auction.

• Agreed to a fourth, $250,000 flight to collect and update pictometric images used primarily by the tax assessor to assess real property values. Assessor Alveno Ross said the last flight had found $39.8 million in new property, adding $839,000 in new tax revenue for Richmond County Board of Education and $346,000 for the city. Commissioners told Russell to seek help funding the program from the school board and other departments that use the data.

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Little Lamb
48959
Points
Little Lamb 11/26/13 - 08:14 am
5
0
Megalomaniac

Total absurdity:

Fire Chief Chris James said he had “nothing against the airport” but it only has two foam trucks and all resources should be dispatched to an incident until it is determined they are not needed.

Chief James is a power-hungry wannabee. He started messing with the ambulance service, and now wants to horn in on the airport fire department. Take care of the log in your own eye, Chief James, before you worry about the splinter in the eye of the airport.

Little Lamb
48959
Points
Little Lamb 11/26/13 - 08:28 am
3
0
TAD

From the story:

Plunkett said a renovated hotel downtown will get $600,000 from the TAD but is investing $6 million, a 10-to-one return.

Is Plunkett talking about the Holiday Inn Express? They've already finished the renovations. Why is the city offering them a kickback after the private money has already been spent? Do we want our budget deficit to get even greater?

Kickbacks to hoteliers, unneeded subsidized bus routes, subsidized relocations to renters. Someday we will notice it is real money, and it used to be ours, and they took it away from us.

Legalized plunder.

nocnoc
49121
Points
nocnoc 11/26/13 - 10:58 am
3
0
I see and understand recoverying the ARC 2% of the Energy Tax

These were revenues that were lost when the Golden Dome in its short sightedness dropped the energy tax suddenly without warning.

Counties and cities did count on the that 2% and that should be recovered. Besides it is not (was not) a direct tax on the TAXPAYERS.

However, what happen between last years and this years budgets to have a Multi-Million Dollar budget short fall?

What changed to add $millions in operating expenses.

ARC has a WEB SITE, so provide the Taxpayers a URL to a PDF that shows the proposed increases vs the 2012/2013 ARC Budget?

Show us what areas those Increases are being spent in also?


Don't we have a right to know the:
Who,
What,
When,
Where
and How much ahead of time?

Little Lamb
48959
Points
Little Lamb 11/26/13 - 11:36 am
0
0
Airplane Survey

In other action Monday, Augusta Commission members:

• Agreed to a fourth, $250,000 flight to collect and update pictometric images used primarily by the tax assessor to assess real property values. . . . Commissioners told Russell to seek help funding the program from the school board and other departments that use the data.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

First, they agree to spend the money, then they tell Fred (What, me worry?) Russell to seek funding from other government groups with bank accounts. Come on, the funding formula should have been part of the agreement up front. The school board, the RC Development Authority, the DDA, and other fiefdoms don't need to cough up the money, since the approval of the expenditure is a done deal.

These commissioners don't have their act together, but then, we already knew that!

P.S. You get your biggest bang with the first survey. Subsequent surveys yield diminishing returns.

Sweet son
11578
Points
Sweet son 11/26/13 - 02:03 pm
1
0
Little Lamb is right on two counts!

Chief James is nothing but a power monger! Also the $200,000 flight is not necessary the gvment already has enough ammunition for new property taxes and the dreaded rain tax!

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