The ACC committee approves the annual budget, employment plan, and agreement of the firefighters’ trade union

The ACC voted to approve the workforce development plan proposed by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, the collective bargaining agreement with Athens-Clarke County career firefighters, site selection criteria for the new fire station, and a fiscal year 2025 budget that fully funds the local government’s affordable housing investment strategy.

The ACC committee also voted in favor Resignation of ACC manager Blaine William, effective from July 12, and approved two recovery homes leading sober living. They delayed a decision on an agreement with Piedmont Athens Regional regarding the transparency of ambulance services in Athens.


Budget for 2025
Athens has achieved

Collective labor agreement for firefighters
Fire station no. 5
Regenerative homes

EMS contract

Budget for 2025

Commissioners adopted their annual budget this year in a friendly compromise between commissioners Jesse Houle, Mike Hamby and Dexter Fisher, which was surprising given the controversy and divisions surrounding last year’s budget negotiations.

Commissioners passed the fiscal year 2025 budget by a 9-1 vote, with Commissioner John Culpepper voting “no.”

Houle was the main author of the Commission’s budget proposal for this yearwhich fully funds the local government’s affordable housing investment strategy, supports the new judicial center project with an additional $1 million to cover inflation, and funds a proposed Black history museum called the Center for Racial Justice and the Black Future.

Sheriff John Q Williams

The budget also includes $545,000 for the ACC Sheriff’s Office to conduct a salary study and fund any recommended raises. In recent months, ACC Sheriff John Q Williams has advocated passionately for the commission to raise deputies’ pay to help improve staffing levels, which he believes constitutes an emergency situation at the jail.

“There is no need for a salary study,” Williams told the commission during public comment before the vote. “You increased the police salary and now they are (at full employment level). You have not raised ours properly, and we are missing over 40 MPs. We can’t continue to operate (in a jail with so few deputies), it’s not safe there.”

Williams opposed the study in part because it would be conducted by Mercer Group, a consulting firm that lists former ACC manager Alan Reddish as a senior associate. He says Reddish, when he was manager, “fought to get rid of pay parity between the sheriff’s office and the police.” Williams believes Reddish would not fairly assess the needs of the sheriff’s office given this history.

Commissioner Jesse Houle

However, commissioners believed that the proposed study would actually result in an increase in MPs’ salaries.

“We can’t predict what will come out of the study they do, but we have determined that we want them to look at other unified governments in the Atlanta metropolitan area that have been missed in previous studies, and that will likely produce numbers similar to what we heard the sheriff asked for ”Houle said.

Houle included in the budget enough money to fund the study itself, which is expected to take about six months to complete, and to suggest a recommendation for six months of deputy salary increases.

Culpepper voted against this year’s budget because he believed it was not fiscally conservative enough.

“I was hoping to work with colleagues to find areas where the budget could be cut to allow for another mileage rate reduction,” Culpepper said. “I think we need to work on reducing and controlling our expenses.”

The budget keeps property tax rates constant at 12.45 mills.

Athens has achieved

The workforce development plan developed by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with local businesses and other community stakeholders was adopted at this meeting by a narrow 6-5 vote.

Commissioners Melissa Link, Tiffany Taylor, Jesse Houle, Carol Myers and Ovita Thornton voted “no,” splitting the vote 5 to 5. Mayor Kelly Girtz broke the tie in favor of the proposal, allowing it to pass.

Commissioner Melissa Link

These commissioners voted “no” because they wanted the Athens Achieves program to compete on a level playing field with a similar workforce development plan currently being developed in parallel by the local government and expected to be completed in two to three months.

“I really want to see what this second task force comes up with and see how these two initiatives can be combined to create something that is truly complete and can meet the real needs of this community,” Link said.

The Chamber of Commerce will receive $1.9 million in seed capital from the federal American Rescue Plan to launch the Athens Achieves initiative. This plan involves the creation of an online portal for job seekers and the development of academic and leadership skills among Athens’ employees.

Athens Achieves will consume approximately half of the available funds. This means that the local government’s employment plan will have to be significantly reduced, as both plans were competing for the same pool of funds.

You can read more about Athens Achieves here.

Collective labor agreement for firefighters

At that meeting, the commission unanimously approved a collective bargaining agreement between the ACC firefighters union and the district board. The next day, Mayor Kelly Girtz signed a collective bargaining agreement with Emily Thompson Alger, president of the Athens-Clarke County Professional Firefighters Association, at Fire Station No. 1 on College Avenue.

The agreement shortens a firefighter’s work cycle from 28 to 14 days, making it easier for firefighters to receive overtime pay. These benefits are shared with other public safety agencies, such as the ACC Police Department, to maintain police parity and morale. The total cost of the new contract will be at least $600,000 as benefits are extended to remaining agencies.

This is the first such agreement in the history of the union, which takes place exactly one year to the day after the committee voted to officially recognize the firefighters’ union.

Fire station no. 5

The commission approved another round of site selection criteria for a new Fire Station No. 5 to serve the southeastern part of the county.

This comes after they rejected potential station locations last year that were proposed using a similar set of criteria. Commissioner Patrick Davenport, who represents the Southeast, asked last month for the vote to be postponed so he could consult with fire officials about expanding the search area.

Despite Davenport’s wishes, the location criteria are primarily determined by the need to expand fire services to the southeast side. The criteria were adopted unanimously.

Convalescent homes approved

The commission also approved sober living recovery homes at 129 Peach Street and 1005 Henderson Extension to be operated by New Life House of Hope. The Henderson Extension house was approved unanimously, and the Peach Street house was approved by a 9-1 vote, with Davenport voting “no.”

Commissioner Patrick Davenport

The ACC Planning Commission recommended denial of admission to the nursing home at 129 Peach Street. Several community members have spoken out against the proposal at previous meetings, saying it would have an adverse impact on traffic, nearby property values ​​and the character of the area. These concerns were echoed by Davenport to explain his opposition.

“I support the work of young women, but I have concerns about this area. I hope my colleagues would understand and appreciate that a convalescent home would go to Cedar Creek, Green Acres or the Five Points area and would exercise the same due diligence in approving it,” Davenport said. “This has been a traditional Black neighborhood… I think it will destroy the character and characteristics of the neighborhood.”

Matt Pulver has an AthCast episode explaining more about it why the Peach Street house was considered controversial by many.

EMS contract delayed

The Commission has delayed a decision on an agreement with Piedmont Athens Regional that would have provided some transparency on ambulance response times and other indicators. As of 2020, the commission had no idea about the operation of ambulanceswhen the EMS oversight committee stopped meeting.

Commissioner Carol Myers

The Piedmont Athens Region agreed to provide the mayor and commission with quarterly reports and semi-annual presentations with various performance metrics, but Myers wanted to modify the agreement to provide a greater degree of oversight. For example, she wanted to include a requirement for certified paramedics to work in advanced life support ambulances alongside emergency medical technicians trained at the intermediate level (EMT-I).

Myers also wanted to change how Piedmont reports ambulance response times from a simple average of all responses to a more detailed metric of less than 9 minutes, or 90 percent of the time, in line with national standards.

John Bandzul, vice president of operations for the national EMS, asked the commission to delay approval of this contract during public comment. He said National EMS has no problem with transparency regarding response times, but Myers should improve some of the technical language in her proposal regarding EMT training so it doesn’t hamper service delivery.

“Intermediates are a dinosaur and an endangered species,” Bandzul said. “If you want to become an intermediate paramedic, you can’t in the state of Georgia. It is no longer a taught level of licensure…it is being replaced by the Advanced EMT level.”

Myers proposed postponing the vote until Friday, June 14, so she could modify her proposal. This was adopted unanimously.

National EMSs have never voluntarily shared their raw response time data with the public or local authorities.

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