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RH fire fee ordinance passes
RH Fire Department

Richmond Hill city council unanimously approved a fire fee Tuesday night to help fund its fire department.

The city joins both Pembroke and Bryan County in assessing such fees, and the vote followed public hearings last week organized by the city and Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce.

Under the new ordinance, homeowners will be charged $185 annually as part of their November tax assessment, while businesses and industrial properties will be charged $250 a year. Undeveloped and vacant properties will be charged a lower rate.

Properties exempt from taxes and certain rights of way will not be charged the fee, according to the ordinance.

The fees can only be spent on the fire department, officials said, whether to buy equipment or pay for operating expenses such as salaries.

Richmond Hill Fire Department currently has 18 employees manning three 24-hour shifts with five firefighters, as well as slots for a fire chief, fire inspector and operations deputy chief who work during the day. The city is currently looking for a replacement for former fire chief Ralph Catlett, who reportedly retired in December. Some have suggested RHFD and Bryan County Fire and Emergency Services consolidate operations in South Bryan, but discussions haven’t progressed due to an ongoing dispute between the county and Richmond Hill over services.

The two sides and Pembroke are set to meet next week in mediation ordered by the court after Richmond Hill sued Bryan County in August after the county raised the millage rate on residents in incorporated Richmond Hill as part of what it called tax equalization.

Prior to that, residents in Pembroke and unincorporated Bryan County paid a higher millage rate than those in incorporated Richmond Hill for what county officials said were the same services.

In the meantime, both Bryan County and Pembroke already assess fire fees, as do a number of surrounding counties. Bryan County collects $200 per home, while Pembroke charges $36 per residence, $25 for vacant lots.

Also Tuesday, Richmond Hill approved the installation of speed bumps for Falcon Drive in Piercefield subdivision. Residents have complained in recent months about drivers speeding near children playing in the subdivision.

It’s unclear when the speed bumps will be installed.

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