Why is the City of Savannah considering a fire service fee as a way to fund fire services?
Charging a user fee for fire services (as opposed to increasing property taxes) is a more equitable way to fund Savannah Fire Rescue since it spreads the cost to all properties that benefit from the service, including tax exempt properties. Customers would pay according to the cost burden their property puts on Savannah Fire Rescue, not according to their property value.
What are the benefits of paying for fire services through user fees versus a property tax increase?
Benefits of paying for fire services through user fees versus a property tax increase include:
- Fire services would be operated as a special revenue fund, similar to water, sewer and sanitation. That means all fire fee revenue collected will be spent on fire services only;
- A decrease in General Fund revenue previously spent on fire services can be used to pay for other underfunded services or a potential millage rollback, i.e. property tax decrease;
- Fire services would no longer be vulnerable to a downturn in the economy that reduces property tax revenue. This, in turn, supports long-term financial planning for Savannah Fire Rescue;
- Increased equity and fairness since all properties that receive benefit from the availability of fire services pay the service fee. The general operating fund will also pay the service fee for protection of the City’s public buildings as well.
What is a fire service fee?
A fire service fee is a charge for fire services provided by Savannah Fire Rescue. Under the plan proposed, the revenue collected can only be used for fire services to customers. A fire service fee is a financing option that provides an equitable, stable and dedicated revenue source to support fire services. In Georgia, fire service fees are similar to water, sewer, or sanitation fees, in that these services are typically funded through user fees.
What does Savannah Fire Rescue do for me?
- Protects the lives and property of the citizens of Savannah by providing the highest level of fire protection, prevention and response services through professionalism and dedication.
- Maintains an ISO Class 1 rating; one of only 55 accredited fire departments in the U.S. with this rating. (There is a distinction between ISO Class I rated departments, of which there are more than 200, and accredited ISO Class I rated departments, of which there are 55.)
- Responds to more than 8,000 calls for service a year which include fires, vehicle extrications, hazardous material incidents, water rescues and much more.
- Currently comprised of 341 professional, fully-trained, career firefighters.
- Operates 15 fire stations, associated equipment and vehicles that are strategically located all over the City of Savannah to ensure a quick response to its citizens.
- Provides Fire safety education, performs fire investigations/inspections and provides community services including blood pressure checks and residential smoke detector installations.
I have never had a fire at my home or place of business, how do I benefit from Savannah Fire Rescue services?
The Savannah firefighters continually stand ready to serve. The department maintains preparedness to provide fire protection services to all properties within the City of Savannah. Even if a property does not generate a call for fire services, that property and its occupants still receive a benefit from the availability of fire services through:
- Reduced risk to life and property due to fire;
- Increased value and marketability of the property;
- Reduced insurance premiums.
How is the City of Savannah proposing to address expanding costs associated with providing effective fire services?
The City of Savannah is proposing to charge a fire service fee that is dedicated solely to funding Savannah Fire Rescue and the cost of providing fire protection services. The fee will provide the resources necessary for Savannah Fire Rescue to deliver fire services to residents, businesses, institutional and government facilities.
What other local governments fund fire services through fire services fees?
Fire fees are currently charged by multiple local governments in Georgia. They are also commonly charged in Florida and Alabama. Neighboring cities that charge fire fees include Bloomingdale, Garden City, and Atlanta. Furthermore, Chatham Fire Department, previously known as Southside Fire Department, charges a fee for providing fire services in unincorporated Chatham County.
How is my fire service fee calculated?
In general, the fire fee is a calculation based on the size of the building space times a risk factor that is assigned by Savannah Fire Rescue based on the property’s risk of a fire occurring. The customer classes correspond to the following property types: single family residential (SFR), non-single family residential (NSFR) or undeveloped. The billing unit is based on the median building square footage of all single family residential (SFR) structures in Savannah, which is 1,700 square feet of building area. All SFR properties will be billed 1.0 billing unit. All other properties will be billed individually, according to the calculation below:
Fire Fee = Building Area/1,700 square feet x Risk Factor x Rate
The number of billing units for NSFR property is capped at 49.0 or 87,300 SF of building square footage per parcel because the demand for the availability of fire services diminishes at the outer limit of structure size.
The risk factor is a measure of Savannah Fire Rescue’s comparative ratio of cost for the initial response to a particular property. All property has been assigned to a risk category by Savannah Fire Rescue based on property, building, occupancy and use characteristics that would affect the probability of a fire occurring and the potential consequences if a fire did occur.
The table below illustrates the four risk factors that can be applied to a property based on the risk assigned to the property by the SFES.
How much will customers be charged per billing unit?
The fire services fee rate is an annually adopted rate, which is dependent on the Savannah Fire Rescue budget. This rate is yet to be determined for the FY 2018 budget proposal. The fee at this time is a preliminary calculation and will be further refined as the FY 2018 budget is finalized.
When will the City Council make a final decision on the use of a fire fee?
The fire service fee will be considered as part of the FY 2018 budget, to be released on or about November 21, 2017, and adopted at the second City Council meeting in December.
Is there any way to reduce my fire service fee?
Yes, both residential and non-residential customers may be eligible for discounts on the fire service fee charge by following the procedures or participation in the following programs outlined in the City’s Fire Discount Policy Manual. The discounts are based on specific activities that the customer undertakes with regard to their property to reduce their fire risk. Through operation of the discount program, the Savannah Fire rescue hopes to encourage behaviors that support their ongoing Community Fire Risk Reduction initiatives and reducing risk to life and property for residents in Savannah.
What will be the billing frequency and the billing mechanism?
The fire service fee charge will be billed on each customer’s City ad valorem property tax bill, beginning in September 2018. If you do not currently receive a property tax bill from the City, you will receive a fire services bill beginning in September 2018.