Oxford, Ole Miss at odds on fire contract

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Oxford Fire Department is at odds with the University of Mississippi over a contract to continue to offer fire protection to the campus.

The department has provided fire protection to the campus since 1987. A contract between the two is up for renewal July 1.

Oxford officials say that while 37 percent of the department’s calls are to the 200-building campus, the university pays less than 10 percent of the fire department’s budget. They say this results in Oxford taxpayers having to subsidize a state agency.

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The university counters that it pays more for fire protection than any other higher education institution in Mississippi.

Oxford Mayor Richard Howorth says combined protection makes sense.

“This service is expensive, and the university is surrounded by city property,” he said.

One of the three city fire stations is located on university property, just across from the campus’ Northgate entrance. That station is being relocated to city property. A second fire station is being constructed at the city’s expense on the west end of the campus, providing enhanced protection to both the university and a fast-growing part of Oxford.

Ole Miss rejected an early request that it contribute 20 percent of the fire department’s budget.

Dr. Andy Mullins, the university’s executive assistant to the chancellor, said the school will probably agree to an increase to get time to accommodate a more extensive study, but officials must have concrete figures rather than percentages.

“I think the College Board wants to take a look at the way all the universities are protected and the cost to each one,” he said. “I’ve talked to some legislators who are also interested in taking a look at fire protection for all of higher education, including the community colleges.”