TIFTON -- Tifton and Tift County governments approved agreements Monday for fire protection and emergency management, clearing the way for a countywide fire department and EMA.

At a joint meeting held at City Hall, the commission and council voted separately to enter a three-year, automatically renewing contract calling for fire protection to be under the supervision of the Tifton fire chief. Under the agreement, Chief Mike Flippo will be equally responsible to City Manager Charles Howell and County Manager Bill Park.

In response to a question by Tift County Commissioner Moody Huggins, Park said county volunteers who have questions or concerns may bring them to Howell or to him.

Employees will receive their paychecks and benefits from the city. The county will pay 50 percent of the city's actual expenses incurred, with monthly budget reports to be submitted to the county manager.

Goals of the program include maintaining, operating and upgrading county volunteer fire stations as needed; construction of a westside firehouse to be funded from the city's Special Local Option Sales Tax receipts; seeking SPLOST funding for an eastside fire station in the next referendum; and moving toward the "two in and two out" personnel formula in firefighter staffing.

The estimated annual operating cost of the program is $3 million.

The EMA agreement calls for appointment of a director by the Tift County Board of Commissioners. The director is to maintain an EMA office and be on call 24 hours a day while developing a disaster response/recovery plan, responding to emergency scenes and coordinating emergency response of public and private agencies.

"Both of these topics have been 'cussed and discussed' for several years now," Howell said. "I think the action taken here today speaks well for both Tifton and Tift County."

Commission Chairman Buddy Bryan said the agreements are "an excellent example of what we can do if we put our heads together for the good of this community."

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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