Perry may add fire fee, still increase taxes

mstucka@macon.comMay 12, 2014 

Perry opened a fire station in 2013 near the intersection of Langston and Houston Lake roads. The Davis Farm Station, at 150 Commodore Drive, spread the fire department’s personnel out. City officials are considering a fee for fire service to cover the 18 firefighters who will be needed on a new fire truck.

MIKE STUCKA/THE TELEGRAPH — mstucka@macon.com Buy Photo

PERRY -- Under a draft city budget, Perry residents would pay a new fire fee that’s doubled in the last month from an earlier proposal, as well as a property tax increase to keep the same level of government services, city officials said Monday night.

City Manager Lee Gilmour cautioned that the budget numbers will shift, and the outlook may get somewhat better.

“While it may look black, it’s not quite as black as it may look,” he said.

That fire fee may roughly double for homeowners. Gilmour told The Telegraph the residential rate may be about $9.50 per month, with rates for businesses to be determined. The last proposal given to City Council called for a fee of $4.80 per month. The latest budget calls for the fees to rise about $1 million, covering the costs of 18 firefighters and several supervisors.

The overall draft budget presented a gloomy picture. To keep services at the same level, the city’s property tax rate would increase from 14.13 mills to 14.52 mills. That budget also would offer increases of 1-percent adjustments to the city’s pay plan and merit program. The city’s budget would still have to pull $186,500 from its reserves to be balanced.

Mayor Jimmy Faircloth reviewed historical comparisons.

“As bad as it appears to be this year, it has been a lot worse,” Faircloth said. Gilmour replied, “Yes.”

Gilmour said he would not recommend a reduced services budget, which would cut eight city positions, including four from the police department. But the proposed cuts can give City Council a starting point for discussing places to save money, Gilmour said.

The council has begun laying the groundwork for a fire fee -- technically called an emergency services fee -- that would cover increased costs for the fire department. The city last year split its staff and equipment when it opened a second fire station near Langston and Houston Lake roads, but that effectively cut staffing close to the city’s center.

The city is buying a new fire truck and wants to fully staff it.

City Council members Monday rejected cuts to the recreation department as a way to save money.

“If we want people to move to Perry, we have to show them a quality of life,” Councilman Willie King said.

Perry council members say the fire fee would be fairer than a property tax increase. A budget document shows the fire fee could be replaced by a 2.93-mill property tax increase.

More budget meetings are scheduled for 5 p.m. May 19 and 5 p.m. June 5 at Perry City Hall.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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