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Beginning in 2020, Chatham County officials and Chatham Emergency Services representatives met to discuss how best to provide fire protection services in unincorporated Chatham County. These conversations became necessary due to non-payment of the annual fire subscription fee by property owners, resulting in funding challenges for the fire department.
To understand what level of services residents wanted from their fire department, Chatham County Commissioners held Town Hall meetings and launched a community survey. The responses told us that most citizens were satisfied with the level of services being provided and thought the costs were reasonable. However, the fire department's revenue matter remained since almost 1/3 of property owners were not paying the annual subscription fee.
The Board of Commissioners heard you. In December 2021, the Board approved a contract with Chatham Emergency Services to provide the necessary fire protection. In May of 2022, the Board unanimously passed the Fire Service Fee Ordinance, which was amended in June of 2023. What does this mean for you? If you live in unincorporated Chatham County and were previously billed by Chatham Emergency Services for a fire subscription fee, you will no longer receive a bill from them and instead be billed a Fire Service Fee by Chatham County to cover the cost of the $15.3 million contract.
Chatham County Commissioners held Town Hall meetings and launched a community survey.
The Board approved a contract with Chatham Emergency Services to provide the necessary fire protection.
There’s a new calculation rate for the fire fee starting July 1, 2023. The fire services protection fee is based on how big your property is and what can burn on your property. If you have items that can catch fire, you are charged 14 cents per square foot. If your total square footage is less than 714 square feet or you don't have anything that can burn, your bill will be $100. The square footage for each property will be obtained from the Chatham County Board of Assessors.
The math is simple. Here is an example of how the fee, which is 14 cents per square foot of burnable property, will be calculated. If you have a 1388 square foot home with a single car garage, which is approximately 250 square feet, a deck that is 150 square feet, and a 10 x 20 storage area or shed that is 200 square feet, your total square foot for the structure is 1988. Based on your 1988 square foot structure(s), your total fire service fee would be $278.32
CES already served most of the unincorporated County for fire protection which is an essential public safety service. However, CES was not able to generate enough revenue to offset its costs.
Payment by credit/debit card should be processed within 1-2 business days. Payment by check should be processed within 3-5 business days.
Structures classified as churches or schools have been given a 50% billing discount. There are no other credits or discounts available.
If you pay online or in-person, you will be assessed a 3% convenience fee using a credit or debit card. To avoid a convenience fee, you may pay by e-check online, use the return mail envelope and pay by check (do not mail cash), or you may pay in-person by check, cash (exact change, please).
Yes, 124 Bull Street, 3rd Floor Finance Department.
The Chatham County Board of Commissioners established the Fire Assessment Fee to cover the cost of their contract with Chatham Emergency Service to provide fire protection within the fire district of the unincorporated areas. Because this is a contracted service and not a County department, it has been established as a fee rather than a tax.
Because the fire service fee is a fee and not a tax, it is not tax deductible. However, your mortgage company may be willing to work with you to add it to your escrow account.
You may appeal your assessment for one of the following reasons: 1) You were not the owner of the property on July 1, 2023; 2) You pay a different Fire Service for protection (not homeowners or fire insurance); 3) You believe the assessed burnable square footage of all structures on your property to be incorrect by more than 179 sq ft.; 4) A $100 land fee was assessed in error for the PIN.
Click HERE to fill out an appeal form for your FY24 fire fee assessment.
Yes, payment is required by the Chatham County Ordinance.
A late fee of $25 or 10% of the outstanding balance, whichever is greater, will be applied. A court date in Recorders court will follow for continued non-payment of the fee plus late fee. If it is not resolved in Recorders court, the case will be transferred to Magistrate Court, where the outcome may result in a lien being placed on the property to recover the Fire Fee and all late fees and court costs.
Chatham County will send the fire fee invoice to the property owner on file with the Board of Assessors. Unfortunately, this information is not “real time” so the County may not have information on any change in ownership.
For properties in the fire district that are sold after June 30, 2022, the County suggests the following process:
The County has a service contract with Chatham Emergency Services (CES) to provide fire protection for many parts of the unincorporated area. As part of the contract, the County will bill and collect the annual subscription fire fee which will be used to reimburse CES for their costs.
Yes, partial payments are accepted but the full amount must be paid by the due date listed on the bill to avoid late charges. Structured payment plans are not available. The property owner must ensure the bill has been paid in full by the due date to avoid late fees and court citations.
No, this fee only applies to property owners who were previously billed by Chatham Emergency Services for a fire subscription fee.
The fire services protection fee is based on how big your property is and what can burn on your property. If you have items that can catch fire, you are charged 14 cents per square foot. If your total square footage is less than 714 square feet or you don't have anything that can burn, your bill will be $100.
No, CES is still a non-profit organization providing fire protection to unincorporated Chatham County.
Fire Service Fee bills will be mailed out this fall.
The Fire Service Fee bill will be mailed to the same address that you receive your tax bill. Need to change the address of where your fire fee is mailed? Visit: https://www.chathamtax.organd click “E-file.”
Chapter 21: Health, Safety, and Sanitation, Article XII – Fire Protection Service Fee
Visit: QPublic Property Search.Here you may search for your property by name, parcel number, or address.
The list of structures billed in addition to your home is located at:County Code Book Page 93
Chapter 21: Health, Safety, and Sanitation, Article XII – Fire Protection Service Fee.
§21-1213 List of Ancillary structures billed in addition to the main structures
By ordinance, Chatham County Fire Fee bills are sent to each property owner of record with the Board of Assessors for each unique PIN and using the same address used for mailing the annual property tax bill. The Chatham County Fire Fee ordinance places the responsibility on each property owner to ensure their invoice is paid. Chatham County does not group bill HOA/COAs, but we are working with them to identify properties within their jurisdiction and assist with the change in process.
No, payment of the fee is required by Chatham County Ordinance. In addition, most property insurers require you to pay a fire fee to ensure that your property is protected.
If you do not find the answer to your question, you can use the Contact Us Form.
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