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Lee EMS and Fire services could be joined

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February 19, 2008

Leesburg -  Consolidation of fire and ambulances services is being considered in Lee County.

Tuesday night Interim Fire Chief James Howell and EMS Director Bobby Watkins will urge commissioners not to consolidate the two services. The discussion recently came up at a commissioner retreat in Atlanta. They're looking at it as a way to save money, but at what cost?

A final budget is four months away, but Lee County Commissioners started budget discussions at a recent retreat in Atlanta.

"We talked about a lot of issues about consolidation, the budget," said Morris Leveritt Lee County Commission Chairman.

To keep a tight budget and not raise property taxes consolidation of Fire and EMS is being considered.

"It's very essential that government looks for ways whether it be through consolidation or other means to be as efficient as possible," said Alan Ours, Lee County Administrator.

Fire Chief James Howell and EMS Director Bobby Watkins worry what you gain in efficiency, you could lose in service. In fact Interim Chief James Howell had a proposals for commissioners to add fire personnel because of safety concerns.

"If you joined forces it could mean more, not necessarily an increase in overall personnel but it could mean personnel from both departments help out as needed, " said Ours.

While the county is finally beginning to see small increase in taxes thanks to retail development like Chili's.

"It is a significant increase to the local option sales tax that the county gets," said Ours.

Those taxes are not enough to allow a lot of leeway in the budget. In the next three weeks, commissioners will meet with department heads who will likely lay it on the line about the amount of resources it takes to manage their departments.

It will ultimately be up to commissioners as to what will stay or what might be consolidated.

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