Residents suing Chatham County over fire fees

Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 4:37 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2023 at 6:12 PM EDT
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CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Some Chatham County residents could see a big refund come their way, if a class-action lawsuit over the county’s fire fee succeeds.

The lawsuit claims the fire fee isn’t a fee at all, but a tax. A tax the plaintiff’s argue is illegal under Georgia law.

If they win, everyone in Chatham County who paid it could get a refund.

For decades, homeowners in unincorporated parts of Chatham County were supposed to subscribe to Chatham EMS for fire services. That’s the private contractor the county uses.

But the company said falling subscriptions and millions of dollars in unpaid fees left them in a financial bind.

So, last year, the county took action. They decided to start billing residents in order to pay for the service.

This class-action lawsuit alleges that the new, county-issued fee is really a tax and that the way it is calculated is illegal under state law.

The suit says taxes in Georgia are supposed to be based on a property’s value, but this one charges a $100 flat fee plus a rate based on your home’s square footage.

The lawsuit asks for refunds for fire fees collected since July 1 of last year.

The county, meanwhile, says the suit should be dismissed.

A Chatham County judge signed an order asking for a judge from another circuit to hear the case. That hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet.