County Coastal Georgia plans to tax residents for firefighters

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The leaders of the largest county on the Georgia coast will tax residents in unincorporated areas to provide fire services and abandon a plan to try to force people to volunteer.

The Savannah Morning News reports that Chatham County’s commissioners on Friday voted to raise $ 11.5 million in costs for Chatham Fire, a private group, from the county’s reserves. The county will then collect a fee on property tax bills for residents in unincorporated areas to cover the cost.

To avoid such a tax or fee, the county officials had proposed an ordinance that would have allowed Chatham Fire to sue people who failed to pay their fee. The commissioners unanimously voted to reject this plan and charge a fee instead.

“I don’t want fire services to be interrupted and we have the resources to do it. We could start funding it from January 1st 2022 with the current budget, I am absolutely certain of that, ”said Commissioner Patrick Ferrell.

Georgia counties are not required to provide fire protection.

Chatham Fire serves more than 35,000 properties in unincorporated Chatham County, but approximately 20% of residential property owners do not pay fire service subscriptions. The fire department head said that would lead to bottlenecks.

The rejected proposal would have allowed fines of up to $ 500 per day for failure to pay.

Resident Ann Sheils said her bill had increased by $ 400 in a year and urged 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 simply choose not to pay is basically unfair and you cannot let it stay that way,” the newspaper reported, it said .

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

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

Chuck Kearns, CEO of Chatham Emergency Services, said the county’s funding means Chatham Fire will likely reimburse partial fire payments to property owners.

“The fact that the district commission voted unanimously to fully fund and support the fire department from January 1st is a better result than we could have expected and the best Christmas present for all of our first responders,” said Kearns.

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