The Bryan County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday to hire a new fire chief for the county during its regular monthly meeting in Pembroke.
After interviewing Freddy Howell of Camden County in a closed session, the commissioners resumed their regular meeting to choose him out of about 30 candidates the board interviewed.
Howell said after the meeting he was excited about the board’s decision.
“I feel excited and anxious, and I look forward to working with Bryan County residents and commissioners and the chairman,” Howell said. “I just look forward to making this a safer place to work, live, play and stay.”
Howell has 27 years experience in the firefighting field. He was a firefighter in Waycross, eventually working his way up to fire chief position there, he said. He has also been the fire chief of the city of Perry, and most recently was the fire chief at King’s Bay Navy Submarine Base.
Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said Thursday the board felt Howell was the best choice based on his experience.
“All of that experience really puts him in the kind of experience we need for Bryan County,” Burnsed said. “As you know we’ve got a unique county that we’re split in two, so he has to manage both areas and … our main station, or headquarters, is there in the Ellabell area, and he is prepared for all kinds of emergency management. We expect him to do a super job for us.”
Howell said he was attracted to Bryan County because it is a lot like where he lives now.
“Bryan County is similar in layout to Camden County, and I have been offered jobs up in North Georgia, I just don’t want to move away from the coast,” Howell said. “This position came available, and it’s a coastal community and I just like being a fireman down here, and it was a perfect fit for me.”
County Administrator Phil Jones said during the meeting he expected Howell to start soon, however he gave no specific date. Details of Howell’s contract were not available at presstime.
Burnsed said Otis Willis, who has been acting as the interim fire chief for the county, will continue to work with the county.
“Otis will continue as he was as assistant to the former fire chief and he has done a good job filling in while we were doing the search,” Burnsed said.
Also during the meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved the 2013 budget of $17.5 million. Director of Finance John Grotheer told the board the budget was “realistic,” requires no tax increase and includes a 2.5 percent raise for county employees.
“Our goal is to remain financially stable and we believe this budget does just that,” Grotheer said. “It is a realistic budget with very conservative estimates on revenues.”
Grotheer noted the budget has a “strong commitment” to public safety, which makes up more than 37 percent of the budget. The sheriff’s department accounts for $4.2 million, emergency management services account for $1.8 million and fire protection is about $1.2 million, he said.
The budget is based on the county’s millage rate of 7.9 mills, the same millage rate the county has held for the past four years, Grotheer added.
In other business, the board also approved an employment contract for Ray Pittman, the new county administrator, for one year with a salary of $100,000 and a $5,000 raise at the end of six months. Pittman is expected to assume his new role Dec. 1.