Mention the words "fire" and "taxes" to some Bulloch County citizens, and tempers flare. Despite published reports and advertisements regarding the proposed tax increase for the "fire tax district", some citizens are still confused about how the proposed tax increase will affect them.
The Statesboro fire tax district is an area extending outside the Statesboro City limits, measured from the distance away from the closest city fire station, either the one on East Grady Street or Fair Road.
The main misconception is that taxes for those living inside that district will rise by 28 percent, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.
While the millage rate for people inside the Statesboro fire tax district will indeed rise by 28 percent, it translates to only two percent in tax increases, he said.
This affects only those within the five-mile tax district, not citizens living inside the City of Statesboro, and not those citizens living outside the fire tax district, he said.
Taxes for citizens living inside the fire tax district will increase by two percent, and after the county collects taxes, the City of Statesboro will be compensated for fire services provided to the citizens in the five-mile district by the Statesboro Fire Department.
Couch and county commissioners have been so concerned about citizens misunderstanding the fire tax district's increase in taxes, they posted an advertisement explaining the increase.
In the ad, Couch stated " ... the increase in the fire tax district will not increase your total tax bill at this rate. It is true that the millage rate for the fire district is increasing by 28.57%. However, the overall millage rate for the fire district is increasing by only 1.8%. If you have property in Bulloch County outside of the fire tax district, you will see no increase in your millage rate."
The total millage increase will rise from 22.04 mills to 22.44 mills in the fire tax district, he said. Couch also directs citizens to the county's Internet web site www.bullochcounty.net, "where we have posted a link to the fire district map that is on a .pdf Adobe Acrobat file. The .pdf files commands will allow you to “zoom” to areas of the map where the boundaries of the district and road names are more legible or readable," he said.
People living in the city limits pay city fire taxes. And while citizens outside the city limits and the fire tax district won't be affected by the proposed increase, they will be paying a new fee for fire services, Couch said.
County fire fee, ISO and substations
The creation of a new county fire department, the headquarters of which are now based in the Bulloch County Annex in the previous 911 office, will pull together the eight volunteer fire departments throughout the county. The new Bulloch County Fire Chief Randy Walker will oversee these departments as well as the addition of six new fire substations throughout the county, which will help the county significantly lower ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings for most citizens, Couch said.
The department, which serves only citizens outside the Statesboro city limits and fire tax district, will be funded by the annual fees citizens will pay, he said.
Residents with property including a residential structure will pay an annual fee of $50. Those property owners with non-residential structures will pay a $70 fee, he said.
"It is not a tax, but a fee," he said. However, " it will show up on a tax bill" because of billing procedures.
He explained Walker will work with the fire chiefs of all eight volunteer departments, which are " largely semi-independent organizations," and will oversee equipment provisions, resources, and other costs and needs the individual departments may need.
The changes in the county's fire service organization " all plays into ISO ratings," he said. "Our goal is to lower all ISO ratings to a Class 6."
Some areas are a Class 9, and many citizens will see a significant drop in insurance rates, " from 30 to 50 percent, depending upon insurors," he said.
The first substation is scheduled for a ribbon cutting Friday in the Middleground community, he said. This substation covers gaps between the Portal and Clito fire stations.
The addition of the substations will cover most of the county, he said.
"This can cut homeowner's insurance by about half if we get the ratings we're shooting for," said Bulloch County Commissioner Robert Rushing. "For $50 a year, (citizens) shouldn't mind it. For property owners with no structures, it won't cost them a penny."
Couch said the substations will be considered fire stations for the purposes of ISO requirements, but will be unmanned stations with one truck parked there to be used by volunteers responding to fires in the area.
Response times will be shortened when a volunteer can access a fire truck at a substation that is closer to the fire than a full station, he said.
Rushing said while most of the county will be covered by the new substations, there will still be a few remote areas that remain unchanged by the additions. These few places won't see a change in ISO ratings, yet citizens there will still pay the fire fees. They will still be getting fire services, including better response times due to closer substations, however.
"Eventually, we're going to take care of those" areas as well, he said.
"It takes money to have better fire protection and better insurance rates," Couch said. "And we're going to deliver on both."
The county recently purchased seven used fire trucks, which he said were " a great deal," and also purchased new turnout gear for firefighters. The county is also looking into the purchase of " turbo drafters," which can pull water from ponds and pools to use for fighting fires, which will also count extra when calculating ISO points, he said.
Couch said the county plans to have "town hall" style meetings at each of the county's fire stations in the near future so information can be given to the public and county leaders can address citizen's concerns and questions.
"We're pretty confident of the results we're going to get," he said.