Fire Assessment Fee Controversy Continues in Walton - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Fire Assessment Fee Controversy Continues in Walton

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Some Walton County residents are outraged over a potential fire assessment fee hike for each home.

They are gearing up to take on the Board of Commissioners.

Their outrage stems from a fire assessment study that proposes, among other things, a 75 dollar service fee hike for each home...

Some residents say the fee is fine the way it is and that there needs to be more fire stations in rural areas, like along highway 20 near Bruce, before they'd pay any more

"I hope they don't put the tax on the people like that because too many people can't afford it. I'm retired, too, but I do have the store, so I can pay it. I don't want to, but I can. But I just don't think it's fair," said Buck Byrd.

"I hope they just call it all off and go with what we got. Everybody's paying enough of taxes as it is," said George Carter

Buck Byrd and George Carter have collected 126 signatures since Friday, petitioning the hike at Byrd's Bruce convenience store.

They agree that the fee hike is too high; but Walton County says the current 1994 rate is much too low to keep up with the higher cost of services.

Currently, the fee is proposed to go from 25 to 95 dollars per residential dwelling.

In May, a fee assessment study was conducted to calculate the cost of services. It was recommended the fee increase to 390 dollars in order to stand on it's own to fund fire services.

The county wants to avoid this for now, but says the fee increases are possible in subsequent years should this be voted in.

"The fees that we're collecting through the fire assessment fee are actually only funding about 5 percent of the fire service. So, the other 95 percent that's spent is coming straight from property tax, ad valorem tax. So, the board certainly did not want to raise it from 25 dollars to 379, which is where this would be cost neutral to provide this service," said Walton County PIO, Louis Svelah.

In addition to fee increases, vacant land is also being assessed and a financial hardship program will be available for which residents can apply should this go through.

A public hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, July 9th, at 4pm.