Hed: Oxford, Ole Miss get reprieve on fire protection standoff
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – A suspended ruling by the state Fire Ratings Bureau has given the University of Mississippi and the city of Oxford a year to examine their fire protection options.
Bureau officials postponed for one year a requirement that the city add six more trained firemen to its force to keep the city’s Class 5 fire rating, defusing a disagreement over fees the city could charge the university for fire protection.
The dispute between the city and Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat arose over a requested 85 percent increase in the fee the city charged for fire protection from $100,000 per year to $185,000 per year.
Khayat had argued the rate increase was not announced before the university’s 1995-96 fiscal budget was set last July. Because the school had not budgeted for the increase, it refused to pay and threatened to terminate a service agreement with the city and establish its own fire department to serve university property.
Under an agreement announced by the university Tuesday, the city will provide fire protection to the Oxford campus and the Oxford-University Airport for the 1996-97 fiscal year. The university will pay the city $100,000 for the service – the same amount it paid last year.
Also according to the university news release, the two entities will develop a long-term, comprehensive agreement that will feature a fire prevention component, which will include safety education and building inspections as well as actual fire protection.
“We are pleased to continue the partnership with the city of Oxford and are confident that by working together we can provide a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff, and protect university property,” Khayat said. “I am grateful to Mayor John Leslie for his spirit for cooperation and commitment to supporting the university.”
Leslie said he met with university officials and Joe Shoemaker from the Fire Ratings Bureau late last week and worked out an agreement that works for both entities.
“The meeting with the Ratings Bureau representatives was very fruitful,” Oxford’s mayor said. “I am delighted the bureau gave us another year. There never was a controversy between the university and the city; this was about the cost of providing protection.”
Leslie said the Ratings Bureau was going to require that the city put on nine additional firefighters to man a ladder truck, which the city and university purchased together for the purpose of fighting fires in the university’s multistoried buildings.
Oxford Fire Chief Terry McDonald said his department has already hired three of the nine firefighters required and the other six would have to be trained and in place by the beginning of fiscal year 1997. Hiring all nine firefighters would increase the department’s budget by $297,000, Leslie said.
Holding off on the hirings takes the pressure off both groups, Leslie said.
“We have a reprieve, which gives them (university officials) a whole year to plan what they want to do, either pay the increased fee or set up their own department,” he said. “Personally, I think they will continue to contract with the city for fire protection.”