The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners hosted a workshop on rural fire-related issues during the regular commission meeting Tuesday and while no action was taken, a number of proposals for a strategic plan and a pathway forward were offered.

County Manager Tom Couch presented a powerpoint presentation to Commissioners highlighting the pressing issues the county is facing with regard to fire services. Couch referred to it as the county’s “Achilles heel.”

Current Situation

Couch said a number of things are crippling progress including high insurance premiums and climbing ISO ratings, a decline in volunteer firefighter forces, concern about working with the City of Statesboro in unincorporated fire districts, useless private water systems outside of Statesboro, and deficient capital financial support from the current funding model.

The strategic plan in the works, Couch said, would include 5 key goals:

  1. Staff full-time firefighters with manned stations in Portal, Register, and Bay
  2. Develop strategies for alternative water supplies to lower ISO ratings
  3. Provide adequate ongoing operating and capital
  4. Apply regulatory and police changes with higher standards for fire suppression, private water infrastructure, and development review
  5. Improve communications between the County and the City of Statesboro

In developing prospects for the plan, which would unfold over three fiscal years, Couch said the county has examined community profiles, organization histories, calls for services, current stations, interagency agreements, ISO impact, budgetary analysis and a number of other factors.

Below is a chart displayed for calls for service over the last several years:

 

Below is the fire district map. The white area illustrates the Statesboro fire district and the grey are illustrates the rural fire district.

Currently, Bulloch County has mutual aid for the rural fire district with Swainsboro and Pembroke at no cost and automatic aid for rural fire with the City of Statesboro at no cost. Currently, citizens in unincorporated areas are taxed on a flat fee for first response but volunteer service is supplemented by the county. The need for more partnerships has Bulloch County seeking more mutual aid agreements.

Recommendations

  1. 18 full-time firefighters plus two additional staff support personnel for inspections, outreach, and reporting
  2. Maintain a combination of paid/volunteer fire departments that is able to serve the rural fire district AND the Statesboro fire district if necessary
  3. 3 full-time firefighters are in the process of being hired now, so the additional would be added over 3 years
  4. Pursue a strategy of water shuttle v. long hose lay and buy 3 additional tankers
  5. Build additional stations to fill gap areas

Financial Impact

“If you buy a cow, you have to feed it,” Couch told Commissioners.

To fully staff the stakeholder recommendation, it would require a minimum annual operating budget of $2 million at full strength.

It would require 2.8 mills for the rural fire district, or 1.8 mills if serving the Statesboro Fire District, too.

SPLOST would help considerably as $2.5 million of the $8 million set aside for public safety is set to go to fire services, but SPLOST funds cannot pay for salaries, so the county would ‘aggressively pursue’ grant funding, which would include personnel grants that cover upwards of 75% for three years, fire protection and safety grants, and private/nonprofit grants from groups like Walmart Community and Firehouse Subs.

Property Value Current Fee 1.8 mills 2.8 mills Type of Structure
$125,000 $54 $90 $145 Residential
$150,000 $54 $108 $174 Residential
$200,000 $54 $144 $232 Residential
$250,000 $54 $180 $290 Residential
$13,560,327 $76 $9,763 $15,730 Briggs and Stratton
$45,463,187 $76 $32,733 $52,737 Walmart Distribution
$427,285 $76 $308 $496 Std. Convenience Store

 

EMA Director Ted Wynn offered insurance savings to “make Commissioners feel better about the increase.”

Wynn said the numbers are a couple of years old but came from a local insurance agent based on a home value of $150,000.

ISO rating of 9 → pay $1,359 annually (average) in homeowner’s insurance

ISO rating of 5 → pay $752 annually (average) in homeowner’s insurance

Wynn said the savings of $607, less the increased fire fee, which would be $174, according to the chart, would leave homeowners saving $433 annually.

The reduced insurance rate would not come until the changes are implemented and the ISO is reassessed.

No Action Yet

No decision was made my Commissioners Tuesday and Couch said before anything is finalized, those impacted by changes will have an opportunity to have their voices heard.

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