Dunwoody city officials are taking another step toward trying to pull together cities in north DeKalb County to create a new fire department.

City Manager Warren Hutmacher told Dunwoody City Council members at their May 13 meeting that city officials had discussed the multi-city fire department proposal with leaders of Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville, and received favorable initial responses.

Now the cities are considering hiring a consultant for a deeper study on how much a multi-city North DeKalb Fire Authority would cost and what level of fire service it could provide.

Hutmacher said previous studies of fire services have been conducted by city staff members, but he recommended the cities now hire outside experts “for better credibility as we go ahead.”

“I think it would add credibility to have someone who does this for a living,” he said.

Dunwoody now gets fire protection from the DeKalb County Fire Department. In 2010, Dunwoody city officials looked at the cost of starting their own department, but decided it didn’t make financial sense. They estimated the cost at $6.4 million, Hutmacher said in a memorandum to City Council.

Dunwoody officials believe that a fire department run by an authority composed of the four cities could provide better fire protection to residents of the cities than they now receive, and could be established without collecting more in fire service taxes.

Preliminary studies estimated the department could start up and operate for about $13.7 million a year, while the current fire tax millage in the area could provide $14.16 million a year in revenue, Dunwoody city officials said earlier this year.

Hutmacher said he expects the new study could start late this year and will take several months. His “best guess” is the new study will cost $75,000 to $100,000, he said. The cost would be split among the cities that join in the study, based on their populations. “Our share would be in the 30 percent range,” he said.

Several council members signaled their support for going ahead with the project.

“I’m not only worried about cost, I’m worried about level of service,” Councilman John Heneghan said. “I don’t want to spend a lot of money on studies, but I’d like to know what our options are before we move forward.”

Some council members said Dunwoody city officials also should investigate other options, such as working out an agreement with Sandy Springs for fire services.

City Councilman Terry Nall has said a multi-city fire authority would be able to add new fire stations and relocate existing fire stations so they provide better services to city residents. Preliminary studies show large areas of Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Doraville are outside a 1.5-mile drive from the five existing stations in the communities, he said.

“This is about taking that millage rate – the millage rate we’re spending [on fire services] today – and having better staffing… with [better] location of stations,” Nall said at the May 13 meeting. “That’s the higher level of service.”

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Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.