Perry plans new fee for fire protection

mstucka@macon.comApril 14, 2014 

PERRY -- Perry City Council members indicated Monday they want to launch a new fee, of about $5 a month per house, to hire more firefighters to protect the far-flung city.

The average home would pay about $57.60 per year, spread over 12 months, according to a projection by City Manager Lee Gilmour. That fee would cover only the additional cost of firefighters, but a property tax increase would have cost the average homeowner $125.48 for the same service, Gilmour said.

Gilmour told The Telegraph that council has been discussing the issue since 2012 but recently concluded a fee would be more equitable than a property tax increase. The owner of a piece of vacant land that wouldn’t generate fire calls wouldn’t have to pay the fee but would pay the tax, while a church that would generate calls for service would pay the fee but not the tax, he said.

“Council’s aware that it’s going to be money out of people’s pockets,” Gilmour said. But most people would get a more equitable solution, he said.

Such a fee could be created by a city ordinance, which would require at least one public hearing.

The city’s new fire station on Langston Road opened last May. Since then, the city spread its staff and equipment out, lessening fire protection near the headquarters station, Fire Chief Joel Gray said. That could mean increases of hundreds of dollars per year in homeowners insurance if the ratings agency reviews the city, costs that would dwarf the new fee.

A new fire truck is scheduled to be delivered by June. The additional 18 firefighters, who would cost the city $841,100 per year, would staff the truck and bring the city to full protection. Gilmour wrote in a memo that he looked for the money in other places. Even canceling the city’s recreation offerings altogether would only get the city about a third of the money needed for the firefighters.

“It is important to examine alternatives,” Gilmour wrote in the memo. “The fact is additional revenue needs to be obtained to pay for this increase in services.”

The city has another utility fee for stormwater drainage. The city’s current tax rate is 14.08 mills, and under the fee plan 3.32 mills would continue to support fire protection.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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