Walton County Approves Fire Assessment Fee Hike - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Walton County Approves Fire Assessment Fee Hike

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After several months of deliberation and some resident outrage, Walton County approved a fire assessment fee hike for the 2014 tax year for all residential dwellings in unincorporated Walton County.

While some residents didn't want to see an increase at all, the decided upon rate is less than expected.

"I would like to suggest that we go with the 75 dollar residential rate and the 7 cents per acre," said Commissioner Bill Imfeld.

The suggestion from Imfeld became a resolution Tuesday, approved via a 3 to 2 vote.

Commissioners Kenneth Pridgen and Bill Chapman dissented. Chapman feared the fee hike is a lot to handle for some.

"We're trying to go too far, too quick as far as what's originally been paid," he said.

It's the first time since 1997 residents have seen a fee increase and the very first time land owners will pay for vacant or agricultural land.

Residents now pay the MSBU rate of 25 dollars.

Next year it will increase by 50, which is still less than the original proposed rate of 95 per dwelling.

"It makes a big difference as far as fire rescue is concerned. It's going to be some assistance to help us pay for the rising costs that are incurred with performing this service," said Walton County Fire Chief, Brian Coley.

Coley said he understands the hardships of residents affected, but the current fee just didn't cut it.

"When you start talking about professional fire fighters and the certifications involved and the skills involved, it comes at a cost. Life saving comes at a cost," said Coley.

The commissioners were very clear that they are in the same boat with their fellow constituents.

"75 dollars will also come out of my pocket and most of the people sitting up here. We're doing it because we have to or discontinue fire service all together," said Commissioner Sara Comander.

The resolution does give the option of a future fee increase, with a cap of 150 dollars. Residents will be able to apply for hardship assistance. If qualified, those residents will pay the current rate of 25 dollars per year.