The City of Archer has a year to figure out whether it will create its own fire department since Alachua County has canceled its interlocal service agreement.
Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) Chief Harold Theus told the county commission on August 12th that the ACFR offered to take over the station located at 17128 SW Archer Rd.
Chief Theus said the ACFR is not interested in renting the fire station but wants to take ownership of the facility that they have paid $450,000 in rent for when they took over the monthly mortgage payment of $34,254.48 in 2007.
Between the mortgage payments and maintenance upkeep, the county wants to transfer ownership of the facility from the City and has offered $20,000 toward paying any surveys and closing costs.
Chief Theus listed the attempts to secure a deal with the City by meeting with City Manager Tony Hammond in February, then followed up with a letter, and reached out to City Attorney Scott Walker and on June 15th tried again.
Chief Theus said the Archer community and businesses benefit from the current staffing of Station #82 because of the ACFR’s quick emergency response times and lower homeowners insurance premiums based on the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of 3 on a scale from 1 to 10.
According to Theus, each business and homeowner within 5 miles from the station gets an insurance premium reduction.
According to Chief Theus, the ACFR responded to 481 total incidents in Archer with 170 incidents within the city limits in 2019.
Chief Theus said he was reluctant to make the recommendation to cancel the agreement, “But I have to be fiscally responsible to the other citizens (of Alachua County) and I cannot recommend that we pay more in rent.”
The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) was also bewildered by the non-response from the City and voted to end the agreement.
Doing so gives Archer 365-day notice to determine how to cover their community with fire service.
The consequences Chief Theus said will be longer response times if Archer doesn’t form its own department. The ACFR would then be answering calls from the Jonesville station, the 7000 SW 88th St. station and with help from Newberry Fire Rescue on the north side of town.
Not only would residents and businesses lose the ISO rating, but also community interaction with the fire department, building inspections and tests on fire hydrant flow would end.
BOCC Commissioner Mike Byerly said he was “bewildered for the second time today,” after hearing that the City of Archer is not responding with the ACFR’s outreach. BOCC Commissioner Ken Cornell said the same word, “bewildered.”
The following letter to Archer City Manager Hammond was dated February 13, 2020.
“Dear Mr. Hammond, The fire station was built in 1999 and is now in need of a new roof, painting, and additional capital maintenance in order to remain operational. As the county now has invested nearly $450,000 into paying the loan off, there is a desire to officially have ownership of the building prior to making capital investments in it.
At a February 4, 2020 meeting to discuss the future of the Archer Fire Station, Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Harold Theus suggested that the City of Archer convey the fire station property to Alachua County for nominal consideration. The deed to the County would contain a reverter clause, transferring ownership of the property back to the City, in the event the County stops using the property for a fire station. This conveyance would allow the County to make major improvements to the building, such as the required roof replacement, without the problem of the County making capitalized improvements to an asset it doesn’t own. Archer City Manager Tony Hammond was receptive to this idea and suggested a letter from the County to the Archer City Commission proposing the conveyance.
If acceptable to the Archer City Commission, the Alachua County Public Works Department will take an item to the Board of County Commissioners accepting the conveyance of the property. Public Works will also prepare the documentation necessary to transfer ownership of the fire station to the County, with the above described reverter language. The County will also pay the costs of closing, including survey, title work, inspections, document preparation and recording fees, as needed.”
After no response, the current interlocal will be terminated on Oct. 1 and the City of Archer will have a year to make other fire safety staffing arrangements.