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Public safety fee increase approved by Walker County Board of Commissioners

Some Walker County residents will see an increase in fees for fire services after the Walker County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the increase.

The fee increase is for the Walker County Fire and Rescue District, which includes the unincorporated county and the city of Chickamauga. Walker County’s other municipalities have their own fire services.

Fire Chief Blake Hodge said at the meeting the increase is needed so the county can maintain its federal rating that determines home insurance costs and maintain the current improvements in emergency response time.

“Irreversible brain death: four to six minutes, a fire doubles in size every minute,” Hodge said. “Our greatest enemy is time. We’re trying to overcome time.”

Response times for service calls have improved over the years, he said. In 2016, the department’s average response time was more than 14 minutes, while in 2022, the average response time was just more than nine minutes.

The fee increase, which was approved Thursday, will begin in the fiscal year that starts in October and will be about a $5 a month increase for most homeowners, Hodge said.

(READ MORE: Walker County looking for volunteer firefighters)

The fees are based on square footage and will increase from 10 cents to 14 cents per square foot.

The minimum public safety fee for residential property will increase from $90 to $125, and the maximum fee will increase from $400 to $600. For commercial property, the minimum public safety fee will be increased from $400 to $500, and the maximum will be lowered from $3,000 to $2,500.

The commercial fee maximum was decreased because several property owners said they were paying more for the fire fee than for insurance, Hodge said.

Over the past six years, Hodge said Walker County Fire Rescue has expanded its number of fire stations and added firefighters to get better response times.

It’s the first increase in the service fee since 2017, Hodge said, since the fee was changed from a flat fee to one based on square footage.

Michelle Lee Blackwell, a resident of Rossville, said she was against an increase in the fee until the chief’s explanation. She said in an online message that Walker County is growing fast and needs more firefighters to keep up.

The increase was bound to happen because of inflation, Blackwell said.

“I would rather pay an extra $5 a month than my house insurance go up a few hundred dollars,” a year, she said. “Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but in this case, I agree with the fire chief. We have to keep up with the times.”

(READ MORE: Northwest Georgia volunteer firefighters dwindle in number)

Along with answering more than 6,000 calls last year, Hodge said Walker County Fire Rescue conducts pre-incident planning, hydrant maintenance, water main testing, equipment testing, public education, professional development and fire inspections.

Hodge also said Walker County Fire Rescue is at risk of having its federal Insurance Service Office score lowered, which would increase home insurance costs.

Improvements need to be made to the fire department for that reason, Hodge said, and the issue is having sufficient personnel. Walker County Fire and Rescue is in danger of moving to a less favorable rating, he said.

After Hodge’s presentation, Walker County commissioners discussed the fee increase before voting on the resolution. He also invited the public to contact him at 706-539-1255 if they had questions about the fee increase.

Commissioner Brian Hart asked what the Insurance Service Office rating was in 2017, and Hodge said it was a 3. He also asked what Catoosa County’s rating was, and Hodge said the neighboring county’s rating was also a 3.

Increasing fees is never popular, Commission Robert Stultz said, but it’s important to not backslide with services as important as fire and rescue. For those reasons, Stultz said he supported the fee increase.

“You can’t put a price tag on life,” Commissioner Robert Blakemore said.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at awilkins@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

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