Commerce officials are trying to figure out what Jackson County Board of Commissioners chairman Tom Crow is up to in trying to change a contract approved by the commissioners, the Commerce City Council and the East Jackson Fire District.
City manager Pete Pyrzenski updated his city council Monday night on the status of the contract under which Commerce would build a fire station that would bring everyone in the East Jackson Fire District within the five-mile radius crucial to reduced fire insurance rates. The East Jackson Fire District contracts with Commerce for fire coverage.
The city council and fire board approved the contract unanimously. The board of commissioners approved it by a 3-1 vote, with Crow opposing. Crow, city officials believe, is still trying to alter the document.
“We were under the impression we were ready to move forward,” Pyrzenski said. “Then it was brought to our attention that the county attorney wanted to see it and the chairman (Crow) wanted to make some revisions.”
The document the city got back from the county was far different from the one all three boards approved, he said.
Among the changes Pyrzenski mentioned: The board of commissioners would set the tax rate for the fire district, the city would assume responsibility for emergency medical services in the district and, should the contract not be renewed, the fire station and equipment there would revert to ownership of the fire district.
The changes Crow seeks would also make the city responsible for pre-fire inspections, fire flows, hydrant testing and other “usual and customary services,” Pyrzenski said. The county also wants to be able to terminate the contract with 30-day notice, a step the manager said would “leave us with a huge investment that would go to another department.”
“I am here to tell you we do have a binding contract for fire services,” Pyrzenski told the council. “As of today, the chairman has not signed it. This is problematic for the city. …I also found out today that there is another fire district in Jefferson… that has a generic contract like what we started with.”
“All we’re asking, and I don’t understand Mr. Crow’s problem, is for fire protection,” noted Ronnie Ray, chairman of the East Jackson Fire Board. “That’s all we’re asking for.”
Ray pointed out that some residents of the district face costs of up to $3,400 per year for fire insurance because they live further than five miles from a fire station.
“There’s very few people who can afford $3,400 of property insurance just for fire coverage,” Ray said. “We thought when everyone voted, everything was on the go. Then I got the copy (of the revised contract) that you have where their attorney scratched through everything. …A lot of that stuff didn’t apply to fire protection. I talked to some county commissioners about it and what the problem is, and they’re kind of like us — they don’t know. The entire district will be within the five-mile radius. We’re ready and we want to go and our citizens in the East Jackson Fire District are ready to go too.”
“All three boards have approved it,” said mayor pro tem Keith Burchett. “There’s only one person holding it up and that’s Tom Crow.”
Ward 5 councilman Johnny Eubanks, a former chief of the Commerce Fire Department appeared frustrated.
“I don’t know why chairman Crow is doing this to our side of the county when he approved a contract just like it for Jefferson,” he said. “Why he’s dragging this out and making the citizens down there pay those high insurance bills. Is it just because it’s this part of the county? What is it? I say it’s a binding contract. We should tell (the BOC) we’re standing behind the (contract) John Stell corrected and sent forward.”
“We just need to know their intent,” Pyrzenski said. “If the chairman is not going to sign it, will the vice chairman sign it? Right now, it’s a legal, binding contract.”
“It’s almost like he’s got an ulterior motive,” Burchett commented.
As the city council was meeting, so was the board of commissioners, but while the contract was on the BOC’s agenda for Monday, the commissioners did not address it at their work session.