The Emanuel County Board of Commissioners will soon discuss whether or not to implement a per parcel fire fee to all Emanuel County landowners.

The hope in implementing the new fee is to relieve the municipalities of the financial burden of providing fire services, which have been exacerbated by the rising costs and continued state mandates. The fee would be placed in a fire fund for capital expenditures like engines, brush trucks, turnout gear, and other vital equipment.

The fund would also permit the establishment of substations in the county. In terms of geographic area, Emanuel County is among the top seven counties in Georgia for geographical size and there are substantial coverage gaps for fire services. Many residents in the county have an ISO rating of 10.

All of the county and city fire departments are volunteer with the exception of the City of Swainsboro and Swainsboro provides coverage for the county in a 5 mile radius from the city limits.

The last time Emanuel County upgraded fire equipment

The last major improvements to county fire services were made in the early 2000s, almost 20 years ago. At that time, the county used funding sources, like grants, to purchase 10 new fire engines (~$250,000 a piece) and placed one at every station in the county. No upgrades or new purchases have been made since and equipment and engines have begun to deteriorate.

Even without cities, Emanuel County is the largest contributor of fire funding, which benefits incorporated and unincorporated citizens, the county says. The roughly $150,000 spent annually covers the cancer insurance coverage for paid and volunteer firefighters, which is mandated by the state, as well as liability insurance and workers compensation. This is done at no cost to the cities, even though the county is not compensated.

The county has been fully funding the fire budget over the last several years, but no improvements have been made, which is problematic in the long run.  

Emanuel County currently has a partnership with the municipalities in Emanuel County to provide fire services. Emanuel County is unique in that seven of the eight municipalities have joint city and county fire stations within their municipalities, which means they have a city fire department number and a county fire department number. The only city that has only a county fire department is Oak Park. The seven cities operate with the county, but in terms of ISO fire ratings, only the city equipment and fire departments are accounted for.

For example: Twin City, the second largest municipality in the county, has a city fire department number and a county fire department number with equipment from both, but there is also independence in some of the operations. When ISO assessment takes place, only the equipment and operations for Twin City are included in the rating formula.

What are the benefits?

The county says the fee would allow the county and the cities to enter into intergovernmental agreements and give the county the opportunity to ‘relieve pressure’ from the small municipalities. Streamlining the process with a county-centric fire department would allow the cities to roll back their contributions and while the county makes improvements.

The cities aren’t currently able to keep up with the costs associated with providing fire services. Garfield charges $2.00 per month for a fire fee on water bills, collecting $4,000 annually.

Additionally, there are many areas in Emanuel County which are classified as a 10 ISO rating. Substations would mean more coverage and residents could see a drop to an 9 ISO rating. On a $100,000 home, the annual insurance policy rate could drop up to $400.

What are the negatives?

The fee is a tax increase on landowners.

How much is the fee?

The fee, which is proposed at $30 per land parcel, would generate $300,000 annually for a fire fund for the sole purpose of capital expenditures. Emanuel County Administrator Guy Singletary told AllOnGeorgia Wednesday that a separate fund would be set up, should the resolution be passed by Commissioners. He also said the $300,000 would still leave the county ‘behind the eight ball,’ but would be a vast improvement.

Who will make the decision?

Ultimately, the county does not need the consent of citizens or the cities to implement the fee. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) only recommends that the Commissioner pass a resolution implementing the fire fee. The county has advertised the proposal in the local newspaper and plans to incorporate the cities, in hopes that they’ll see the benefit in the partnership, Singletary told AllOnGeorgia Wednesday.

A PUBLIC HEARING is set for Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 6:00 P.M. at the Commissioner’s Office.

The next REGULAR Commission Meeting is Monday, August 20, 2018.

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