St. Marys consolidation talks spark fear

Mayor, committee leader say police, fire departments not going anywhere

ST. MARYS, Ga. – The city of St. Marys fears it may be left without a police and fire department.

That news has been spreading around town after the City Council formed a task force to determine how the city can cut costs and save money.

But on Friday, the city's mayor set the record straight, saying the police and fire departments aren't going anywhere.

Two of the items discussed among the task force were consolidating St. Marys fire and police departments with Camden County's.

The mayor and the councilman heading the committee say these are just discussions. That committee cannot vote on anything, and they haven't made any recommendations to the City Council.

Still, that didn't stop a lot of people in St. Marys from worrying.

"I cried for about three hours," Christy Cox, whose husband is a St. Marys police officer, said of her reaction when she heard about talks of consolidation. "He would probably get picked up, we're hoping, but if he doesn't, we could probably lose our home because if he goes to the Sheriff's Office they could only start him out at $12 or $13 an hour, which is hard to make a mortgage payment when you have two children."

Juanita Neace feared for her tow truck company's bottom line. But it's not just her business she worried about, it was her safety, too.

"I know I can leave my house with my service vehicle 'cause there's going to be a St. Mary's officer riding the area frequently," said Neace, of Camden Towing. "It's not going to be the same if the county takes over."

The news spread around St. Marys, even on social media. A flyer posted on Facebook urged people to go to the City Council meeting Monday, where many thought the vote would be cast.

"Absolutely incorrect," St. Marys Mayor Bill Deloughy said.

Deloughy said the city is not entertaining any type of police or fire consolidation.

"It's not an issue yet," he said. "I don't know if it will ever become an issue because there are an awful lot of things that have to be looked at. It's not an easy thing, it's a major, major decision."

Deloughy said the City Council does have a committee looking at ways the city can save money and offset costs from water and sewer bond debt. That committee is headed by Councilman Greg Bird.

Bird says instead of continuing to raise sewer and water rates, the committee is looking at the fire and police departments. Not consolidation, but sharing resources in areas like drug enforcement and SWAT teams.

"Those are in duplication with the county itself, so there may be some ways we can look at sharing our services, and that is being explored," Bird said.

He said there would be no cuts to patrol officers and no fire positions cut at all. But he said right now the committee is just brainstorming and doing research.

Deloughy said when it comes to a move like this, it's about more than just dollars and cents.

"We need police, we need police, we need fire," he said. "If we don't have our fire people out there, we're going to have a problem. The county can't cover it."