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No property tax increase expected

Some fees to be raised to offset inflation

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Posted: April 19, 2007 5:38 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2007 5:00 a.m.
No property tax increases were proposed in Statesboro's fiscal year 2008 budget, but several fees are expected to be slightly higher to help offset the impact of inflation over the past several years.
    Among the fee increases proposed are a two percent increase to both the water and sewer rates and a two percent increase in the city's sanitation fees.
    Statesboro City Manager George Wood said the increases are necessary to keep pace with inflation. He said they haven't been changed in at least seven years.
    "There's not much we can do," he said.
    Wood said he'd hoped that gasoline prices had spiked and were going to come down at some point, but it doesn't appear they are going to decline.
    For residential sanitation customers, the increase represents approximately a 25 cents increase per month to $13.
    "One reason we've been able go that long without an increase is because of the growth we've had in the system," he said.
    Also proposed is an eight percent increase in the tipage fees at the Statesboro-Bulloch County landfill to help accommodate the increased cost of transporting waste to Wayne County.
    "The real drive behind this is we've grown exponentially out there," Wood said.
    Even the increase won't "totally stem" the problem, but it will help it. However, Wood said it was likely another increase would be necessary in the future.
    The increase would only apply to private disposal companies and residents serviced by the city's sanitation service would not be subject to the increase.
    Also at Thursday's meeting, Wood proposed changing the way the Statesboro Fire Department is funded to ensure it's fair to all those receiving fire protection.
    Under an agreement reached in the mid 1980s and still used today, Bulloch County residents who live within five miles of the city limits pay 25 percent of the fire department's budget in exchange for fire protection and lower homeowner's insurance.
    However, the property outside the city covered by the fire department represents 42.1 percent of the total coverage area of the SFD.
    "This means that city property owners are subsidizing fire district property owners for fire protection services," Wood said.     
    He proposed asking the county to pay 42.1 percent of the fire department's budget, saying there has been considerable growth in the fire district since the agreement was first reached.
    Wood has met with Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch about the situation, but ultimately the Bulloch County Commission must approve the change. If they do, only residents inside the fire district would see an increase in their taxes.
    Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield told the council members present that the fire department "needs a lot of help" to continue providing effective services to the residents.
    Most notably, Merrifield said new fire suits for firefighters, saying three of them had been burned in fires in recent months.
    "If we can't protect the people working for you, we might as well not be in business," he said.
    He also said, and Wood agreed, that newer fire trucks were needed as some of the trucks in the current fleet are so old that replacement parts for them can no longer be found. In fact, they had to have one part manufactured recently to repair one of the trucks.
    "We need to do a better job of replacing our reserve equipment because when you have a large fire, it's not reserve anymore," Wood said.
    In the proposed budget, the city allocated money for new fire fighting suits as well as more than $160,000 to make repairs to the Fair Road Fire Station, which has had problems with water leaking into the station.
    The council also heard from other department heads regarding the capital improvement projects they have planned for this year.
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