Eight years after a little-known Gainesville ordinance established a “fire protection fee,” a senior community in South Hall is finally getting charged for it. And the residents are none too happy about the $93 monthly fee.
In a letter dated March 13, which was shared with The Times, the city’s water resources department informed the Villas at Friendship Corners in Buford that they had not been charged the fee since the ordinance took effect in January of 2010.
“We have not been charging you correctly, and we will not back bill you for any of these fees, but fees will take effect on your next billing,” the letter states.
John Marbury, secretary and board member for the Villas at Friendship Corners Condo Owners Association, said he and other residents believe the ordinance is being misinterpreted in its application to the 16-unit senior adult complex.
“In fact, we believe that whoever was making the decisions in (2010) correctly exempted us from this fire protection fee,” he told The Times in an email.
Linda MacGregor, Gainesville’s water resources director, said the fire line fee applies to customers that have fire sprinklers and/or a connection for firefighting.
“There is no charge for the water used to fight a fire,” she added in an email to The Times. “About 550 customers have this service.”
MacGregor said the basis of the fee was revised in 2010 based on meter size rather than number of sprinklers.
“We recently became aware that about seven customers were not being billed for this service,” she added. “These customers were recently notified that the fire fee would be included on their next bill.”
Marbury said the Villas at Friendship Corners does not have any sprinkler system.
“While the term ‘fire line’ is mentioned (in the ordinance),” he added, “it obviously is referring to the fire lines feeding a sprinkler system. We have two fire hydrants that were paid for and installed by our developer back in about 2006. If fire hydrant fire lines were to be assessed this fee, I am sure the (ordinance) would have included the term ‘fire hydrant’ in the paragraph head.”
Marbury said he thinks “someone recently was looking for ways to increase funding at the expense of their captive customers” and that the Condo Owners Association is “considering retaining legal help at this time, but hoping it doesn’t come to that.”
“Can we afford this?” Marbury asked rhetorically. “I guess if we have to, but we try to keep a little reserve for a rainy day, things like roof repairs and even billable firefighting water if that unfortunately hits us. And there are other costs that we have to pay for like insurance and landscaping. And we all pay Hall County for fire protection in our property taxes.”