Savannah property owners sound off about city's proposed fire fees

Alderman Dr. Estella Shabazz hosted a town hall meeting to discuss fire fees. (Credit: Shelbey Roberts)

People living in Savannah’s fifth district say they’re not happy that the city is looking to charge property owners an extra $240 per year for fire services.

Right now, the city pays for fire services out of its general fund. But, now that Savannah is scrambling to fix a multi-million dollar budget hole by the end of the year, officials are scrambling to make up the difference by implementing a fire fee.

Tuesday, District 5 Alderman Dr. Estella Shabazz hosted a town hall meeting to discuss updates to the fire fee following last week's budget workshop.

“This is going to hit everybody," said Marian Pelote, who lives in Feiler Park.

Pelote says she appreciates the work that the Savannah Fire Department does, but she's interested in alternatives to the fire fee.

“I am concerned because it is last minute and you have to consider who you’re going to hit with this," she said. "We’ve just been hit with a hurricane and then last year one before that and now this.”

While some say they can afford the fee, some people, like Dr. Pat Harris, the President of the Poplar Place Neighborhood Association, say they’re concerned about what it would mean for their neighbors.

“We don’t take care of our people. It’s about greasing somebody else’s pocket or finding out what we can do with other money," Harris stated.

Since the budget workshop, the city decided to explore the fire fee, as well as combining it with a discount program for low-income families and a property tax decrease of 1 millage rate.

But, officials have less than three weeks to make a decision on how to move forward.

City Manager Rob Hernandez says he understands the concerns that people have brought up, but he says there aren’t many other alternatives.

“I get it. Nobody wants to pay more money. But, the alternative is reducing service and nobody wants to reduce service," he said.

Shabazz committed to voting no to the fire fee during city council’s first and final budget readings.

“Adding anything to your household expenses would be a burden," she said. “We are not in the same households. We do not have the same incomes! We do not live the same lives. We are all different!”

The first reading for the proposed budget will be this Thursday. The final reading will be on Dec. 21, 2018.