The Midway City Council took yet another look at the countywide fire and rescue plan Wednesday and gave citizens a chance to ask questions about the project. No vote was taken and more discussion is likely at Midway’s next council work session.
County Administrator Joey Brown, Public Safety Director Mike Hodges and the county’s Fire Chief Brian Darby presented the latest version of the plan which calls for 31 paid county firefighters operating from realigned stations throughout the county. A new station is being built at Miller Park on Highway 84 east of Hinesville and an East Liberty station is planned for a site near the intersection of Islands Highway and Fort Morris Road. Another fire station will be located on Isle of Wight.
Darby emphasized that future fire and rescue operations will need both volunteer and paid staff. “We want to keep our volunteers; we need our volunteers,” he said. Volunteers will receive uniforms, insurance and a stipend of $10 for each call they respond.
If Midway participates in the countywide plan, $50,000 will be allocated immediately to bring the Midway Fire Station up to minimum standards.
Liberty County plans to use a combination of revenue sources to pay for fire and rescue operations, most notably an annual fee to be charged on each property taxpayer’s tax notice. This is the way solid waste is paid for now.
The fire and rescue fee for most Liberty County homeowners would be $150 annually according to the current draft plan. Every parcel of improved land in the county is assessed according to heated square footage and placed in one of nine payment tiers.
Tier one is for pre-billed mobile homes and the estimated cost is $40 a year. The 1,627 parcels in tier one will produce about $65,000 to pay for fire and rescue protection.
Tier two is the largest, including 3,829 parcels with homes of less than 2,000 square feet. The $150 charge for these homes should bring in $574,000.
Homes larger than 2,000 square feet will be charged $250 annually. This tier should bring in $418,000.
The county’s 66 churches, charitable organizations and nonprofits will be assessed $350 annually, amounting to $23,000.
Three levels of commercial properties are proposed, with those less than 4,000 square feet assessed at $4,500 yearly.
Commercial buildings larger than 4,000 square feet but smaller than 20,000 square feet should pay $6,500 annually. Those larger than 20,000 square feet will be assessed $8,500.
Industrial buildings of less than 100,000 square feet will pay $10,000 and those larger than 100,000 will be assessed $15,000.
Low income residents who would have difficulty paying the fire and rescue fee can apply to the board of tax assessors for income-based exemptions from the fees.
Brown told the council that details of the plan are still being adjusted and that some provisions might change slightly. Projected fees, he said, might go up or down by $5. Once set, the fees will remain in effect for five years so homeowners can plan for the cost.
After explaining a time frame for listing the fee on tax notices that go out in March to begin collections in January 2020, Brown asked the council for a final decision in writing this month. Council members said they would discuss the question at their work session Oct. 22.
Midway Mayor Levern Clancy Jr. closed the meeting with a recognition of Henry Stevens, a former councilman who died Oct. 15. Stevens served on the council for 30 years and his son, Henry Stevens Jr., is serving his first term as a councilman. Services are set for Saturday at Midway Middle School.
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