Hall County has taken another step toward relief for North Hall homeowners suffering from skyrocketing insurance rates.
The Board of Commissioners finalized purchase of property for a new North Hall fire station during Thursday’s meeting.
“This has been a priority trying to get this station back opened, to try and offset some of those folks whose insurance bills went up 200, 300 percent,” District 3 Commissioner Scott Gibbs said. His North Hall constituents were affected in the hundreds by the insurance reassessments because of their distance from a station.
The new station at Mount Vernon and Shirley roads is in addition to a relocation of Station 3, a 40-year-old-plus station that was meant to be temporary from its inception.
“The other station attorney told us last night that that location should be closed within 10 days,” Gibbs said, adding it would be in the Cool Springs community.
Bids are due the first week of July. The next action on the new stations by the commission should come at the end of July, Gibbs said, when commissioners will award the bid to a contractor.
“I hope at the end of July we have the numbers. I think it can be done at last meeting in July, and at the latest, the first meeting in August to award the contract,” Gibbs said. “What the county will do is provide the contracts with the slab ready. Then, once we get those in, our public works department will bid out the grading on a fast track.”
The urgency for new stations was prompted by the Insurance Services Office’s reassessment of properties for fire safety. In December, the commission made offers to property owners for the stations.
The gaps in fire coverage meant worse ratings and higher insurance premiums. The move was especially jarring, Gibbs has said, for homeowners meant to be in the coverage area of a relocated Clermont station but the intended replacement station was never built.
“In order to get the best insurance rate, you have to have a fire station within 5 miles, and a hydrant with 1,000 feet,” said David Kimbrell, Hall County Fire Chief and Emergency Services Manager. “If you do that, you get Class 4; if not, Class 10,”
“This is ultimately just another step in trying to make sure the whole county is covered. We eventually would like to have a countywide Class 4 rating,” Gibbs said.
Kimbrell said that to reach a countywide Class 4, it will not only take more stations but more hydrant access.
“There are still areas that don’t have fire hydrants, and still several areas that are more than 5 miles outside the fire station,” he said.
Kimbrell said he hopes future special purpose local option sales tax funding can appease the gap.
“Hopefully we can get on a future SPLOST or whatever the county wants to do,” he said.
For now, the department needs the funding to staff a new station, officials said.
“The county is at minimum staff at all fire stations right now, and in order to open this new station, we’d have to get the 15 people — there are no extra people at any station,” Gibbs said.
SPLOST can only pay for capital projects, not personnel. Kimbrell has asked the commission for funds to staff the new station.
“That’s in this budget request for this year; we’ve requested those 15 personnel,” he said.
County officials have estimated a spring 2014 date for opening the stations.
“Typically, it’s nine months to the year from when we begin construction,” Kimbrell said.
The new station won’t feature any technical advancements, but will allow the aging building to be retired.
“Those were just built to get us started,” Kimbrell said. “It wasn’t meant to be in operation as long as it was.”
Gibbs said the old station will be closed, and surplused by the county.
He cited geographic factors that make fire coverage tricky.
“You have the size of the county, and the lake (Lanier), which affects accessibility,” he said. “For example, the No. 3 fire station — had it not been for the lake, it wouldn’t be needed, but there’s no way to access that area.”
Looking to future projects, Gibbs voiced concern for another fire department service: ambulance care.
“I think one thing you’ll see that will have to modified down the road as South Hall continues to grow and seeing the highest use in fire departments is ambulances,” he said. “Because the number of ambulances should be related to the number of noses, and their are folks that require that.”
The cost of an ambulance, including staff, is a little more than $520,000 a year, Gibbs said.