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Fayette County to increase fire tax, but EMS tax drop lessens hit

Property owners in Tyrone, Woolsey, Brooks and unincorporated Fayette County will be paying more in taxes this year for fire protection.

That means a net $39.04 a year increase on the annual property tax bill for a parcel valued at $250,000. That amount factors in a lowering of the county’s EMS tax rate by $9.30 for that same parcel.

The fire tax does not affect residents in Peachtree City and Fayetteville, who do not pay county fire taxes since they have their own fire departments.

The fire tax has taken the brunt of the reductions in property taxes over the past several years as property values, and tax revenue, has fallen significantly, said County Manager Jack Krakeel.

The fire fund also gets revenue from insurance premium taxes, but those too have declined a good bit in recent years, Krakeel said.

Without the increase, the department would either have to completely deplete its unrestricted cash reserves to keep current staffing levels, or instead cut 15 positions, which could lead to the temporary closing of some fire stations, officials said.

The county currently has 32 firefighters working per shift. Significantly reducing that number would lead to cutting personnel from two per truck to one in some instances, which at that point could lead to the abandonment of apparatus instead for safety purposes.

That in turn would lead to a increase in response times to fire calls, which for 2010 averaged 5 minutes and 17 seconds, officials said.

It takes about 17 personnel to staff a standard house fire, according to Deputy Fire Chief Tom Bartlett.

“I don’t think we really have a choice in the matter,” said Commissioner Robert Horgan, whose sentiments were echoed nearly exactly by Commissioner Allen McCarty.

The recommendation from staff includes a minimum of funding for capital improvements to be set aside for vehicle and apparatus replacement.

Over the past several years, the millage rate has stayed constant and budget overruns have been absorbed, officials said.

Krakeel said in the late 90s the fire millage rate was as high as 4 mills. The proposal would put it at 2.4 mills, up from the current 1.991 mills.

The EMS tax cut will reduce the tax obligation for landowners in Fayetteville, who are assessed the EMS tax but aren’t subject to the county’s fire tax because the city has its own fire department. Those property owners will get the full benefit of the tax cut, which will reduce the tax obligation by $9.31 for a parcel valued at $250,000.

The EMS tax cut is possible because the EMS bill collections remain healthy, as does the EMS fund balance, Krakeel said.

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