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Oakwood pursues fire tax relief
South Hall city considers creating its own fire department
Station 5 firefighter B.J. Williams loads turnout gear into one of the station’s engines after returning from a call Monday afternoon. Oakwood is looking for ways to ease the fire tax on the city, including contracting with the Gainesville Fire Department and even starting its own fire service.

Oakwood Fire Department?

Extreme as it may seem, the creation of such an agency is one of the options the South Hall city is considering in its pursuit to bring property tax relief to its residents, who are paying a higher Hall County fire tax than residents living in unincorporated areas.

“Whatever we have to do to correct this issue, we need to do it,” Mayor Lamar Scroggs said. “... If we have to do a fire department ourselves, so be it.”

The county charges a fire tax rate of 1.65 mills for residents who live in areas outside of Hall’s cities and 3.08 mills for residents who live 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.

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.

“I think (the county) is sound in what it’s doing,” Brown said. “Do we like the results of it? Probably not.”

He noted that Oakwood residents are paying out $400,000 above the $165,000 in fire taxes to the county.

“We might not be getting the right amount from the state,” Brown said. “We may have areas in our city limits that are being coded as county (properties).

“Who knows when the insurance guy goes out and sells insurance policies whether he writes down the right jurisdiction or not and whether they get it right at the state? We know if they are working off the Oakwood ZIP code, we’d really get screwed over.”

Earlier in the year, Brown wrote a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe asking for help in clearing up a longtime confusion over ZIP codes and addresses in South Hall.

“We have Oakwood properties that have Flowery Branch and Gainesville addresses and, likewise, we have Gainesville properties that have Oakwood addresses,” he said at the time.

Councilman Ron McFarland pushed seeing if Oakwood is getting its fair share in premium tax money from the state.

With more money from the state, “we could lower the millage rate in the city of Oakwood” and, consequently, offset the overall tax burden for residents, he said.

Another option, officials said, is talking with the county about the possibility of surrendering its $165,000 in exchange for a lower fire tax rate.

Also, the city could approach Gainesville about the costs of serving part of Oakwood, particularly areas around the Mundy Mill subdivision off Mundy Mill Road and Copper Springs subdivision off McEver Road.

Regardless of which option Oakwood chooses, Scroggs said, “we can do something better.”

In an August council discussion on the matter, McFarland raised the notion of starting a fire department or contracting with another fire department.

Brown agreed. “If we don’t do so for our citizens, we’re not representing them properly,” he said.