Proposed Savannah fire fee could impact Chatham Co. government buildings

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Savannah is now just a few days away from a proposed fire fee becoming a reality and part of next year's budget.

The Chatham County manager is weighing in on the ripple effect that fire fee could have on all municipalities throughout the county. County Manager Lee Smith and county staff have been crunching the numbers on how much the fire fee could cut into the county's budget.

Smith pointed out, most of the county's major operations centers are in Savannah and subject to that proposed fee. All told, nearly $200,000 could come out of the Chatham County budget to cover the fee.

Smith said right now even settling with the city on a fire fee come the first bill is an "if".

"Board members on our side are saying we don't know if we are going to pay this, we are not budgeted for it. We don't know really that it's something that can be allowed by law. So, they are questioning that. But I think there will be some discussion about it, the school board too, as I understand it," Smith said.

Smith says that fire fee, imposed by Savannah, would have to come out of the maintenance and operations budget, or the general fund. The county won't make up that difference by raising the millage rate, but it will affect taxpayers county-wide.

"If you look at the grand scheme of things in the budget, $200,000 to hundreds of millions of dollars may be a drop in the bucket. But citizens are calling it an issue of principle...that they're paying for something that they really get nothing, or they get no benefit," Smith said.

Smith says he believes there would be less pushback on the fire fee, at least from the county perspective, if they would've had more time to talk with the city about the fire fee.

"It just seems fast. It just seems fast," Smith said. "If this becomes a reality I think you will see, again no criticism to Savannah...but you're going to see some challenges. That's my belief."

Here's a timeline of what's next for the city's budget that includes that fire fee. The final city council budget workshop is Thursday at 10 a.m. Then a public hearing at 2 that afternoon.

The final vote and adoption of the budget will take place later that afternoon. The budget goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The county manager says they're just waiting to see how the budgeting process goes for the city, and they'll tackle the issue as they start their budgeting process in the spring.

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