Coastal Georgia County To Tax Residents For Fire Departments

Leaders in Georgia’s largest coastal county will tax residents of unincorporated areas to provide fire services, scrapping a plan to force people to pay for voluntary subscriptions.

The Savannah Morning News reports that Chatham County Commissioners voted on Friday to cover $ 11.5 million in costs for Chatham Fire, a private group, off-reserve in the county. The county will then impose a fee on property tax bills for residents of unincorporated areas to recover the costs.

Trying to avoid such a tax or fee, county employees had proposed an order that would have allowed Chatham Fire to sue those who had not paid its fees. Commissioners voted unanimously to reject this plan and create fees instead.

“I don’t want to see fire protection services disrupted and we have the resources to do it. We could finance them from January 1, 2022, with current resources, I am completely confident, ”said Commissioner Patrick Ferrell.

Georgia counties are not required to provide fire protection.

Chatham Fire serves over 35,000 properties in unincorporated Chatham County, but about 20% of residential property owners do not pay fire service subscription fees. Fire officials said this is causing shortfalls.

The rejected proposal would have allowed fines of up to $ 500 per day for non-payment.

Resident Ann Sheils said her bill had increased by $ 400 in one year and pleaded with the board to find a solution that would be fair to all residents.

“The idea that my husband and I, and many of you, are paying the bills of people who choose not to do so is fundamentally unfair and you can’t let this continue,” she said in the newspaper.

She also said it was unfair to base payments on the value of both structures and land, as opposed to just structures.

Chatham County Manager Lee Smith said he could make a proposal on the required fees in the coming days. Commissioners could vote on the details on December 17.

Chatham Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns said the county funding means Chatham Fire is likely to partially reimburse fire payments to homeowners.

“The fact that the county commission voted unanimously to fully fund and support firefighters from January 1 is a better result than we might expect and the best Christmas present for all of our first responders.” , Kearns said.

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