Chatham Co. Commission holding information session on fire fee changes

If you live in unincorporated Chatham County – you may be seeing some big changes coming for...
If you live in unincorporated Chatham County – you may be seeing some big changes coming for your fire service fees.(WTOC)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 5:44 AM EDT
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CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - If you live in unincorporated Chatham County – you may be seeing some big changes coming for your fire service fees.

For years the county has been working with Chatham Emergency Services to figure out a solution to this issue and later this week it could become final.

While municipalities are required to provide fire service – the county is not.

Chatham Emergency Services does provide fire service to the majority of the county, but it does come at a price.

For decades, homeowners were supposed to subscribe to have fire service by Chatham Emergency Services.

Chuck Kearns from CES says that system worked well for a while when more than 95 percent of people subscribed – but now, that number has dropped to close to 70 percent.

They worked with Chatham County to come up with a solution – a few months ago they signed a contract so the county will pay Chatham Emergency Services directly and then the county will bill residents to collect the money on their end.

“It’s a tremendous relief because this is going to make up for a $3 million a year shortfall to be fully funded for operations and capital we have been so short financially for so many years that we haven’t been able to do the things we need to do to keep current with our equipment and our fire stations,” Kearns said.

Now, Chatham County Commission will vote on the proposal of exactly “how” the landowners will be charged for fire service.

The county will be hosting a virtual session Monday night at 6 p.m. to talk about that plan and get your questions answered.

The proposal that Chatham County Commission will vote on during their meeting on Friday is how much residents will pay.

The proposal is a $100 flat fee for all land - plus a calculated fee based on square footage for all structures on the property that could catch fire and burn – including house, garage, dock, shed, deck or gazebo.

For one homeowner on Wilmington Island, he said he has been paying the fire service fee for more than 20 years - under the new proposal his bill would go up from $216 to $275.

“I don’t mind paying for it, I just don’t understand how if they are going to get more people to pay into the pot, why my rate would still go up and not just a little, we are talking a 16 percent rise over last year,” said homeowner Warren Cunningham.

While Cunningham’s rate increased others have decreased under the new proposal.

Chatham Emergency Services understands this is a difficult decision for the county but necessary to finally get everyone on the same page.

If you have any questions or want to learn more, attend Monday night’s Zoom. Then we will have to wait until Friday to see if commission approves this new payment proposal. You can also find more details on the proposal here.

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