Columbia City Council on Tuesday flatly rejected Richland County’s version of the contract for the combined firefighting service, a move that likely heats up the struggle to renew the disputed agreement.
A unanimous council voted for a completely rewritten contract that would govern the joint, $37 million, 500-member firefighting force. Nearly every line in the county’s version was stricken and new, sometimes contradictory language substituted.
The key contentions in Columbia’s draft would:
Designate the city’s fire chief to run the service
• Create oversight committees to monitor operations and determine the locations of new fire stations, among other responsibilities.
Share expenses in a way the city feels is equitable, including the costs for a 30-person joint command staff and senior personnel
City leaders want a face-to-face meeting with county leaders at a neutral site to work out the differences in the documents. City representatives won’t meet at the county administration building as county officials had suggested, Councilman Daniel Rickenmann said. Rickenmann has been a point person for the city on the negotiations over renewing at 20-year-old agreement that expired a couple of years ago. County leaders have talked about ending the agreement and creating their own firefighting force.
City Council waived discussing the contract behind closed doors, and then released the document to The State newspaper, at the newspaper’s request. Richland County did neither after sending its version to city manager Steve Gantt in mid-December.
The version the city adopted Tuesday after a brief, public discussion shows the two governments are far apart.
Starting on page one of the 24-page document, Columbia dispute’s the purpose of the agreement. The county version states the county would have authority over the county portion of fire service. The city version calls for the county to delegate its authority to the city.
“Furthermore, the purpose of this agreement is for the City of Columbia to determine the appropriate level of fire services to be provided by the Columbia-Richland Fire Service … ,” the city contract states.
The county wants the agreement managed by its Emergency Services Department. It wants both jurisdictions to pick a fire chief and share the cost of salary and benefits.
The county wants a Fire Advisory Committee to have a role in policies, budgets and planning. The city, which has a 288-member force and a $20.5 million budget, struck that provision.
The county wants to pay its 211 full-time and volunteer firefighters and have them stationed in county fire stations.
The city wants fire stations staffed under “best industry practices.”