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Oakwood has mixed reaction to fire department
Issue is based on millage rate
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Within the past few weeks Oakwood City Council members have tossed around the idea of establishing a city fire department, but the reaction to that possibility seems to be mixed.

Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs said the council is continuing to explore the possibility.

"We are in discussions," he said. "It's still an option of ours."

The issue was raised because Oakwood residents pay a higher Hall County fire tax than residents living in unincorporated areas.

For residents living outside of Hall's cities the fire tax rate is 1.65 mills, but the rate is 3.08 mills for residents living in the cities, except for Gainesville, which has its own fire department.

One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

"We're paying triple (the millage rate)," Scroggs said. "Our millage rate in the city is only 2.41 and the county fire tax ... is way more than what we're paying in city taxes for just fire services alone and we feel that's way out of line and it's way too much."

The council has been in discussions with the county as well in attempts to resolve the high millage rate.

"We have discussed with some people about it and right now it's in discussions," Scroggs said.

Speaking on the issue at a recent Oakwood City Council retreat, City Manager Stan Brown said the county determines a tax rate to cover the total cost of providing fire services, then rolls back the unincorporated rate based on the amount of premium tax it receives from the state for properties in those parts of the county.

The county doesn't receive money from the state for properties in the city. That money goes back to the cities — $165,000 in Oakwood's case.

Brown also has said Oakwood residents are paying $400,000 above the $165,000 in fire taxes to the county. He said the city may be underfinanced in the amount it receives from the state, because the state may code areas in the city as county properties.

Scroggs said the feedback from residents he has received mainly supports the possibility of establishing a city fire department.

"I have talked to some of them. If we can do something to save them taxes then they're for it," he said. "The ones I've talked to are in favor of reducing their costs."

However, there are some residents who disagree with the possibility.

"We've got a good enough fire department," said Lori Millwood "Hall County (Fire Department) is close enough and I don't think Oakwood needs one."

Joe Hall said he disagrees with the move because he thinks it would be unnecessary spending by the city.

"I think if they're raising cane about how much money they don't have then why start a fire department and spend tons of money unless they're going to get some kind of federal grant, which everybody says we need to cut federal spending," Hall said. "No, just let Hall County take care of it."

Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said he is not in favor of Oakwood establishing its own fire department either.

"I feel like we provide Oakwood coverage and I feel like we cover them as well or better than the rest of the county," Kimbrell said.

He said he has yet to discuss the issue with any member of the Oakwood City Council, but he does understand the millage rate issue the city has raised.

"The gist of it was they don't agree with the way that the finance department calculate the tax rate," Kimbrell said. "I don't know anything about whether they're correct in what they're assuming or whether our financial folks are correct in what they calculate."

If Oakwood were to establish it's own fire department, Kimbrell said it would impact the county fire department financially.

"It would (have a financial impact) because if Oakwood had their own department then we would not get the fire tax for that property, so it would be a financial impact to the department

Kimbrell said, however, that the county fire stations that primarily respond to Oakwood will still be necessary to cover other areas around the city.

"We have stations that are adjacent to Oakwood, but we also have unincorporated parts that we would have to protect, so those same stations would still have to stay intact," he said.

Scroggs said the issue is not based on the services the Hall County Fire Department provides, but entirely on the millage rate.

"As far as the service that the county fire services give us, it's excellent, but the cost is just over proportioned," Scroggs said.