ARCADIA — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an interlocal agreement that will merge the city’s and county’s fire and emergency medical services. The interlocal agreement, which will implement the merger, had to be approved by both the City Council and the County Commission. The merger officially takes effect June 1, 2007. The DeSoto County Commission had already approved the agreement.
County Administrator Craig Coffey, who has spearheaded the county’s efforts for a merger, addressed the council, outlining several last-minute changes to the agreement. City Administrator Ed Strube expressed concern about several aspects of the funding mechanisms for the merger, which Coffey then endeavored to resolve. Following the presentation by Coffey, Councilwoman Sharon Goodman immediately moved for approval of the merger agreement, and Councilman Roosevelt Johnson seconded the motion.
Councilman Paul Whitlock was the only person to express concern. However, in the end, he voted for the merger. Coffey said much of the cost of the merger would be paid by the sales of land properties that have increased in assessed value. “Those increases in land values are paying for absorbing the cost of this merger,” he told the council. “This is the perfect time to do this merger. … because the county is in a financial position to help the city. The new fire services are coming on the back of all the land sales that are occurring.”
Merger talks between the city and county date to the 1980s. Until last night, attempts to merge the two public safety services had failed. The latest attempt began Feb. 8, when the council unanimously approved a proposal by DeSoto County that would lead to the merger.
“I do appreciate everything that everybody has done,” said Mayor Robert Heine Sr. “Like one commissioner said, ‘It’s not fine-tuned yet.’ There’s going to be some fine-tuning down the road, and it’s not going to be us or them. It’s going to be all of us. The vote is in. That’s final, and that’s the way it’s going to be.” City Attorney David Holloman reminded the council that the merger agreement would still have to be forwarded to Tallahassee for state officials to examine before it can take effect. Holloman said he did not anticipate any problems. A ceremonial signing between the two governments will be scheduled for later in the month.
By JOHN LAWHORNE