North Columbia Fire and Rescue is inviting residents in its district to a special meeting Tuesday to decide the fate of two pieces of fire department-owned property. As part of the merger with Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, residents voted at an annual meeting this month to lease a station on Washington Road, formerly a Leah Fire Department station, to the county for use as a fire station.
The community is invited to the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Eubank Blanchard Community Center on the corner of Ray Owens and Cobbham roads.
County officials don't want to lease the property. They want it deeded to them along with the former Winfield Fire Department headquarters station on Cobbham Road. North Columbia Chief Tom McFarland said it is up to the residents in North Columbia's fire district to decide whether to deed the properties over to the county.
"We were a subscription fire department. That meant that every subscriber to the fire department was actually an owner," McFarland said. "When we went to be a contractor with the county, we were still owned by the subscribers."
Pam Tucker, Columbia County's Emergency Services Division director, said county officials want to terminate the contract with North Columbia, which originally was to expire at the end of 2006. They also want those two properties owned by North Columbia deeded over to the county to be used as unstaffed, but equipped fire stations to be operated by area volunteers.
North Columbia also is turning over seven fully equipped trucks and the Columbia Road training station to the county as part of the merger. Volunteers can sign on to serve with Martinez-Columbia, McFarland said. The county also will be paying off more than $300,000 in North Columbia debt, Tucker said.
McFarland said it takes a citizen voice, not a vote by the chief or board of directors, to change the agreement from leasing the Washington Road property to deeding over that one and the Cobbham Road property.
"In order for us to technically divest ourselves of the property and equipment, we have to go to the people who own the fire department. That is now the citizens," McFarland said. "They were called subscribers. Now they are called citizens in the North Columbia fire district."
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