Past Meetings

If you would like to ask a question or make a comment, you may email those to chathamPIO@chathamcounty.org. Questions and answers will be posted on the to this page during the first week of March.

 

Six Options for Fire Services

 

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners is considering six options for fire services in unincorporated Chatham County. The options are detailed in the presentation here.

 

Chatham County Survey Results

 

Fire Protection Services — Unincorporated Chatham County Questions & Answers from Virtual Workshops and Emails

 

  1. What are the options being considered by the County for fire services?
    The County has listed six options on its website at www.chathamcountyga.gov
    In summary, the options are:
    • Not to make any changes
    • Fire subscription to be legally required via Ordinance with enforcement provisions
    • Fire fee to be assessed and collected by the County on property tax bill
    • Fire Districts created for each provider with corresponding millage levy. Taxes collected by County on property tax bill
    • Cost of fire services included in the SSD (Unincorporated area) Millage Rate and collected by County on property tax bill
    • County Fire Department formed and costs are included in the SSD Millage Rate. Costs included and collected by County on property tax bill.

  2. Why doesn't the County pay for fires services for their residents like the City of Savannah does for their fire service?
    The City of Savannah's fire department is part of its municipal operations consisting of a $32 million annual cost which is 17% of the City's General Fund budget. Chatham County has never provided a fire department for the unincorporated area. This is because the unincorporated County has historically been a rural area. In 1970 there were 20,000 people there being served by volunteer fire departments. The area has now "grown up" with almost 90,000 residents being served by 9 different fire service providers.

  3. Does the county pay for fire service for their facilities? If so, can you provide specifics?
    The County pays a subscription for its unincorporated facilities of $12,000 per year based on a service agreement with Chatham Emergency Services approved in 2020. Within municipal limits, the County does not pay for fire services as it is a local government.

  4. How can the county require its tax payers to pay a private company for a service the county should provide? If so, will the county have oversight of Chatham Fire Services?
    By law the County can assume responsibility for fire services. Providers can be designated for the unincorporated area either as a whole or within districts. The County can then by ordinance require property owners to subscribe for fire protection. Chatham Emergency Services operates as a non-profit corporation. The Chatham County Commission currently appoints one member to the CES Board.

  5. If the fire fees were included in the tax bill, would the county be able to control and manage the fee?
    Under the proposal, the County would collect the fees on the property tax bills and pass them on to the provider. Fees would be structured based on service contracts that would be negotiated with each provider. Performance measures, objectives, financial transparency, and reporting requirements could be built into the service contracts.

  6. Can this subscription fee be put on the personal property line to possibly create a tax deduction?
    If the fee or tax is billed on the property tax bill, it would generally be paid by a mortgage company via an escrow account. For a fee, it would depend on how the mortgage company reports as to whether it could be deducted. If it is a tax, it is deductible subject to IRS limitations.

  7. Will residents of the unincorporated Chatham County still pay CES if the County chooses to add the cost into the tax bill?
    No, the County will collect the funds and remit them to the service provider.

  8. What is the cost comparisons, per sq. ft., of services rendered by CES to the other local fire departments?
    The County does not have this data for CES or for the other fire departments.

  9. The County received $5 million in insurance premium tax revenues. Please explain how these funds are used and if CES receives any of the funds?
    The County receives funds from insurance premium taxes from the State of Georgia, and those funds are used to fund police operations and equipment for the unincorporated County. The County is not currently paying CES for fire services, other than its own subscription (question 3).

  10. Should this ordinance come to fruition, who will provide oversight of Chatham Fire? Will it be transparent to the General public?
    CES is governed by its own Board of Directors. The County has one board appointment to the CES Board.
    CES historically invites its subscribers to an annual meeting where it reports on its operations.

  11. With respect to the privatization of fire service, do you feel the public should have a choice in who they choose as their emergency response provider? Why/why not?
    Because there is a need to have designated providers for purposes of emergency response as coordinated through the 911 system, providers are assigned to geographical districts. For this reason, providers are assigned by the County and not chosen by the resident. In the past, neighborhoods have approached the County Commission to ask for a different provider, citing the proximity of new fire stations or some other reason related to improved public safety. If the Commission agrees, the fire districts are revised and public safety agencies are notified of the change.

  12. Is there an opportunity to conduct a study on the cost of the Savannah Fire Dept. providing a subscribed service?
    This is not currently being discussed. Savannah does provide some subscription-based fire services in the unincorporated area, and it is possible that they would be willing to expand their coverage area. This scenario most likely would occur if the fire districts are revised due to best proximity of a SFD station or other SFD resources.

  13. Is there an opportunity to conduct a study on the cost of starting a public county fire dept.?
    Under Option 6, the County would establish a fire department. The County has not quantified this option, but if it did so, the County would need to consider not only the operating costs of a fire department but also the infrastructure components – stations, equipment and technology requirements.

  14. Is there an opportunity to conduct a study on the cost of raising Chatham Fire's staffing levels to more closely meet NFPA 1710?
    CES has its own Board of Directors which would be responsible for the conduct of such a study.

  15. Are there plans for a flat billing fee? If so, can you provide specifics?
    Fee structures have not been defined. A fee could be assessed either as a "flat" fee or as a fee based on value or size of the property. Each of the County's nine providers have different subscription fee structures. If the choice is to move to a fee structure under Option 3, the County would define the fees within the service contract for each provider in a way that could be included on the property tax bill.

  16. Does the county plan to invest in the improvements of the water system infrastructure? The current water system is not sufficient to supply adequate volume and pressure for the current hydrants and new hydrants cannot be added.
    The County is working to identify funding opportunities that would improve water flow and provide hydrants, either with the Federal Government or Corps of Engineers. There is also an interest to map current resources so that gaps can be better identified. CES has a hydrant map on its website at www.chathamems.org/hydrants. The County does not own any water systems. All systems are either owned by private providers or by municipalities, mainly the City of Savannah.

Below are some comments received from our citizens:

  • I/we can support the option 3 as recommended. How/where/when do we vote?
  • Based upon the quantity of those who simply don't pay the fee to the SSFD it's good to see that apparently enough information has been disseminated so as t o create the awareness required to alter the collection system in a more equitable manner. I note the HOA recommends option 3. My questions are (1) what would the rate be based upon and who would determine the rate; (2) As it is indicated that perhaps as many as 1/3 of property owners do not subscribe,therefore not paying a fee is it contemplated the requirement of all property owners becoming liable for subscription will induce a reduction of the current fee structure; (3) why should nonpayment not result in a lien as well as a judgment.
  • All must pay for fire services and the county needs to collect as part of property tax.
  • It is my belief, that the government's number 1 concern should be to provide for public safety and be able to respond to any emergency and take care of the citizens.
    • Based on my 25+ years on fire and emergency service experience, I have never seen a situation like this. I served in several states and fire departments and held several different positions, this is truly a unique situation that definitely requires the board's attention, and I am happy you have chosen to tackle this tough issue.
    • There are many things I have learned in my career and one of the most important is "Just because we have always done it this way doesn't mean it's the right way or best way." Change is difficult for people to handle, but sometimes its for the best of everyone involved. Most will get on board with change in time. You are obviously not going to make everyone happy, but in the long term, people will remember the hard choices you made and the hard work you did to make the change.
  • My husband and I strongly recommend that the Chatham County Board of Commissioners adopt option 3 from the list of options under consideration for funding fire services in unincorporated parts of the county. We have been residents of Southbridge since 1994 and have been subscribers to first Southside Fire Department and now Chatham Emergency Services the entire time. We feel the county should put a plan in place to adequately fund the fire service provider for our community. Having a fire fee on our county property tax bill as option 3 suggests is the most equitable way to assess and collect the fees necessary to ensure all property owners in unincorporated Chatham County share in paying for fire service. We know Chatham Emergency Services can not continue to operate without proper funding from all the property owners in the areas they serve and something has got to change.

 

Questions for CES

 

Background on CES:
Chatham Fire, we're a conglomeration from the 1960s were many volunteer departments consolidated to be able to provide a more efficient and more responsible service. CES is a combination department, they have a mix of both paid and volunteer firefighters. Many of their volunteer firefighters are actually paid people that respond on their days off. They have a total of 88 career personnel spread across 14 stations.

For the CES FAQ please click here

 

Want to know where the closest Fire Hydrant is?

 

www.chathames.org/hydrants