Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Citizens Back Fire Volunteers against Merger with Neighbors

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Citizens Back Fire Volunteers against Merger with Neighbors

Article excerpt

NEPTUNE BEACH -- Most of the residents at a meeting Thursday to

discuss fire service made it clear they are happy with the

city's volunteer fire department.

Jacksonville City Councilman Dick Brown scheduled the meeting

to give residents a chance to comment on a proposal to merge the

Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach departments. Neptune Beach

Mayor John Kowkabany has proposed combining the volunteer

department in his city with the full-time, paid service in

Atlantic Beach.

The settlement of Atlantic Beach's taxes-for-services lawsuit

against Jacksonville, signed a year ago, calls for Jacksonville

to pay the Beaches city $150,000 annually to provide fire and

police protection to the Mayport area. The agreement also calls

for Atlantic Beach to provide fire coverage in Neptune Beach if

requested by that city.

In March, Kowkabany and mayors Lyman Fletcher of Atlantic Beach

and John Delaney of Jacksonville announced plans to discuss the

merging of some services by the two Beaches cities. At the time

the mayors said fire service would be high on the list.

In recent City Council meetings, Kowkabany's proposal to merge

the departments has drawn criticism from others on the panel.

Kowkabany said at the meeting that merging the two departments

would provide more efficient service and save money.

But no residents at the meeting voiced concerns about the level

of service provided by the department, which is manned by

volunteers and police officers. A few residents cited examples

of rapid response times by the department.

Resident Aaron Grubbs asked a question that was to be repeated

throughout the meeting.

"Who started this?" he asked Brown. "The citizens haven't

started this."

City Councilwoman Leslie Lyne said Thursday's meeting would

have drawn a larger crowd if residents were dissatisfied with

the city's fire protection. She also pointed out that Atlantic

Beach has had difficulty keeping its firefighters. …

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