Richmond Hill officials are considering charging an annual fire fee on homes and businesses.
City Manager Chris Lovell told city council Tuesday night that the fee, which if approved by city council will cost homeowners $185 and businesses $250, has been in the planning stages for some time and was part of the recently approved budget for 2019.
Council members had a first reading of the ordinance Tuesday. It can pass the ordinance after a second reading in April. If it’s approved, the fees will be charged on tax statements.
Among other things, the city’s fire fee ordinance notes the importance to residents of good ISO fire insurance ratings and the growing cost of running “a modern up to date fire department.”
The ordinance then says current city revenues “available to the city for fire protection services are not sufficient to fund the continued effective operation of the Fire Department at a level to provide adequate protection for the citizens of the City of Richmond Hill.”
Property already exempt from ad valorem taxes will be exempt from the fire fee, such as churches and schools; so will rights of way, the proposed ordinance said.
The fees will be used only for fire protection, it notes. In recent months, some have questioned whether the city and county should consolidate fire services, but those discussions have been put on hold as Richmond Hill’s lawsuit and mediation over service delivery continues, officials said.
At present, Bryan County already collects an annual fire fee of $200 per home, and County Administrator Ben Taylor pointed out those fees, along with insurance premium taxes and other unincorporated services revenue, fund the county’s fire service.
“That means no property tax dollars are used to provide fire services,” he said.
Pembroke currently charges $36 per residence, $25 for vacant lots and businesses are charged on a sliding scale based on square footage and use, City Administrator Alex Floyd said.
Also Tuesday, council approved several amendments to its charter regarding its top appointed officials - the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and chief finance officer.
The new charter will require a 4-0 council vote to suspend or fire those officials. The measure still has to be approved by state legislators, Mayor Russ Carpenter said.
“The proposed change,which the General Assembly must still approve, reflects the desire to provide more job security to senior personnel that must work in a politically charged environment,” he said in a text. “This can be a tool in attracting employees to work in government when sometimes it is difficult to lure highly qualified individuals away from the private sector.”
Also Tuesday, Carpenter announced the appointment of Charles Blanks to the city’s planning commission and Lavetris Singleton and Jay Patel to his Mayor’s Advisory Committee. Singleton will chair the committee, which will advise Carpenter on improvements needed in various neighborhoods in the city. The committee’s first priority will be to work on getting a special needs swing in the J.F. Gregory Park playground while also working to improve Boles Community Park, Carpenter said.
The Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce will host two forums on the city of Richmond Hill’s proposed fire fee ordinance: Thursday, March 28 at 6:15 p.m. and Friday, March 29 at 8:30 a.m. Both forums will be at the Chamber office, 2591 US Hwy. 17 and are open to the public.
Richmond Hill City Manager Chris Lovell and other city staff will be at the RH/BC Chamber forums to answer questions regarding the proposed fire fee, according to a press release from the Chamber. The first reading of the proposed fire fee ordinance was read March 19, the second reading will be Tuesday, April 2.
“The city completed a Fire Protection Services Funding Analysis in the Spring of 2018. In order to meet the minimum staffing standards as well as upgrading
an aging fire fleet, we need to increase funding and council feels assessing a fire fee, similar to other cities our size, is the best way to proceed,” Lovell said in the release.
“The Chamber is pleased to partner with the City on these forums so residents and business owners can attend and get the facts about the proposed fire fee ordinance,” said 2019 Chamber Chairman Dallas Daniel.