TIFTON -- Tift County Commissioners officially approved Monday the six-month interim interlocal fire suppression agreement in regular session, one day before a deadline set by the City of Tifton. If the deadline had not been met, the Tifton Fire Department would have ceased being first responders to fires in the county outside the Tifton city limits.

"This agreement will keep our fire protection what it has been," said Commissioner Moody Huggins, who attended his first meeting after having surgery to remove a brain tumor. Commissioners and citizens applauded Huggins twice during the meeting.

Tift County Commission Chairman Buddy Bryan said that he and other commissioners had received numerous calls from constituents concerned their homes and property were in danger of burning. Tift County and the City of Tifton have been in negotiations since May on the subject of fire protection services.

Bryan surprised people in attendance at Thursday's cookout at the Henry Tift Myers Airport with an announcement of the County's intention to ratify the agreement. The cookout was billed as an event to honor "Friends of the Animal Shelter."

In other action, Commissioners hired Tyron Spearman as Tift County's public relations coordinator. According to a memorandum, Spearman has been volunteering his services by taking photographs at events hosted by the County and preparing press releases for public information.

County Administrator Wayne Johnson said Spearman will continue his services as needed until Johnson negotiates an official contract for payment of Spearman's services. Johnson said the contract will specify Spearman's duties.

"I have worked with Mr. Spearman on a number of projects and he will definitely do us a good job," Bryan commented.

"I think he will be an asset to our county," Commissioner Charlotte Bedell commented.

"I have been meeting with (Tift County) department heads and you have great employees who have some good stories to tell," Spearman said. "We want to get it out in the media."

Spearman said he would formulate a budget for his work.

In other action, commissioners:

¡ Approved Board of Elections Chairman Laverne W. Land's request to give approximately 93 Shoupe voting machines to a man who owns a recycling center in Lenox. Commissioners had tried to find a buyer for the machines, but most voting districts in the United States are implementing electronic voting and weren't interesting in purchasing the old machines. Two of the machines will be kept at Elections Central for historical purposes.

¡ Voted to support a request that Tift County participate in the Resource Conservation and Development Council. Grady Thompson and Gerald Branch told commissioners in workshop that the proposal would cost approximately $1,000 in the beginning and then dues would be approximately $500 each year. According to the men, the County will be in a better position to capitalize on grants that would pay for fire hydrants, vehicles for welfare recipients to return to work, road paving, and other items.

¡ Denied a request for $5,000 in funding from the County's Drug Abuse Treatment and Education Fund to operate Everette Temple CME Church's After School Program. Board member Veronica Graydon said the program is in its third year of operation and grants that had kept the non-profit afloat had been depleted. County attorney Rob Reinhardt, who researched the issue of separation of church and state for Bryan last week, said legislative restrictions on how the fund can be spent prohibits the County from spending the money on anything but certified drug rehabilitation programs.

¡ Voted on request of Commissioner Hugh Webb to add late Commissioner J.R. Rowe's name to the sign on Parker Road because of his dedication to constituents during his short term as commissioner before his death.

¡ Denied Jason Days's request to waiver delinquent charges for 2002 taxes on a piece of Tift County property formerly owned by his grandmother. Day had argued in workshop that the bill had gone to the wrong address. Tax Commissioner Gene Goode recommended denial because of the precedent it would set with more than 1,000 taxpayers who had already paid penalties. Day will not be charged for penalties accrued after he approached commissioner with his request.

¡ Reappointed County department heads for 2003-2004 year.

¡ Announced the hiring of Tremayne Porter as the County's new information technology specialist. Johnson said it would be more economical and, with the increase in the number of computers in use, more effective to have a highly-trained specialist on board in a full time capacity.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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