Sparks fly between VFD Chief and BOC Chair
Volunteer Fire Departments concerned about support of county
by Ashley Biles Associate Editor
Tempers quickly flared between Chairman Rusty Blackston and Northside Volunteer Fire Department Chief Andy Hay at last week’s Upson County Board of Commissioner’s meeting when Hay addressed the board about having a county-run fire department. He alleged that Blackston does not support the VFDs, referencing his vote in a work session in July to no longer continue the “contract” the county has to fund the departments $500 a month and his continued push for the creation of an Upson County Fire Department. Hay also noted there has never been a contract between the county and the VFD; that it is an agreement so that the county can legally provide the money to each department.
“For some time now you have been hearing that the Board of Commissioners-Upson County have been wanting to take over county fire protection,” said Hay. “There are some that are distributing negative and false information. On July 16, 2013, Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston attempted to pretty much put the volunteer fire departments in such a position that they might not be able to continue to operate, but thankfully, by a vote of 4-1 that attempt was stopped. For the record, there is not now, nor has there ever been a contract with the county. There is an agreement.”
In the meeting Hay referenced, Chairman Blackston told the board the VFDs were not following the agreement of reporting how much water is used during the time a fire is being fought. He had noted that this could cause the water superintendent and water department to waste time and money looking for a leak when there isn’t one. Blackston had also stated that the county is in financial strains and asked the board if they wanted to discontinue the funding of the departments since they had not been holding up their end of the deal. The rest of the board voted to leave the agreement in place throughout the rest of the year, to give time to meet with each of the chiefs and find out what was going on since there was some dispute as to when their reports should be turned in.
In Tuesday’s meeting Hay told the crowd that the personnel of each of the VFD are members of the fire departments, help run emergency calls with the Upson County Ambulance Service, respond in any kind of weather to clear roadways, extinguish house fires, grass fires and anything else they are asked to do. He continued saying they do all of these things for $6,000 per year per department. Hay stated the City of Thomaston Fire Department also receives the yearly $6,000 from the county, even though they are also funded $1.2 million each year from the city.
“If you take all these accounts into fact, the citizens of Upson County are getting a heck of a lot for their money. Somewhere there are individuals or groups who think they can do better than the funds these volunteer fire departments operate on,” said Hay.
After Hay made his statement, he began to question the board, starting with Commissioner Frank Spraggins, to ask if they supported the volunteer fire departments; however he was quickly stopped by Chairman Blackston, who stated all the comments needed to be directed to the chairman. Hay then asked the chairman “do you support the volunteer fire departments?”
“I support the volunteer fire departments in a way,” said Blackston. “Also, I am not trying to put you out of business, but trying to help you. We have demonstrated that in the past year or so, but you have rejected our help and I don’t think we need to go any further with this.”
Hay stated he wished to ask a question to the other commissioners, seeing that he was assuming Blackston’s answer was “no.” When he posed the question again to Commissioner Spraggins, Blackston interrupted and told Hay that he will not question the board that all comments would be directed to him and if he could not agree with that, he would be asked to leave. Hay again stated that he would like to ask Commissioner Spraggins his opinion to which Blackston again responded all comments were to be directed to him.
“I will not put them (the commissioners) on the spot,” said Blackston. “I’m just asking you to conduct business as we ask you to and to direct your comments to the chairman. I will not have you crucify this board and put them on the spot.
Hay responded by telling the crowd “see what we are dealing with here?” Blackston told Hay that there would be no further discussion of this matter during the meeting, but that he would be glad to meet with Hay afterwards anytime to talk about it in more detail.
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