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Fire protection plan topic at commission meeting

The Liberty County Commission will meet Aug. 31 in place of its usual mid-month session that would have been Thursday. The countywide fire protection plan is expected to be a major topic on Aug. 31.

The commissioners have been giving increased attention to a plan to serve the entire county with paid fulltime fire and emergency protection. The services were the main topic at the county’s planning meeting in February and a series of town halls on fire protection were held all over the county in April.

Different ways of paying for the service are being examined. Initial planning called for a fire fee to be on printed on tax bills as the solid waste fee is. Fees would appear on this year’s assessment notices and then on the following years’ tax bills. This would allow the service to start in January 2019.

At a recent meeting, County Administrator Joey Brown said, “All property will be protected and all property will bear a fee.” Brown added, “It’s important to note this.”

One possible payment plan shows property valued at $50,000 would bear a fee of $46 per year and property valued at $1 million would be assessed a fire protection fee of $920. Brown said under that plan the average fee would be $138-$150 annually.

The special purpose local option sales tax approved by voters last year includes $2 million for startup of countywide fire protection.

Brown said, “We will continue to rely heavily on volunteers, but it’s time to put some boots on the ground,” meaning paid professional firefighters who will work shifts to provide 24 hour-a-day, seven day-a-week coverage. Brown said the county was studying a per call payment and other benefits for volunteer firefighters.

The county’s online calendar showed the usual Aug. 17, 5 p.m. mid-month meeting instead of the new date, apparently in error. The calendar does not yet show the Aug. 31, 5 p.m. session to be held in the commissioners boardroom in the county annex at 112 N. Main St.

The Aug. 31 session will be followed in six days by the commission’s regular first-Tuesday-of-the-month Sept. 6 meeting at 6 p.m.

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