Pickens mayor: New fire fee will benefit residents

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

PICKENS — Faced with the decision of losing or keeping its fire department, the city of Pickens has opted to keep it, which means residents and business owners within the city limits are going to have to pay a new fire fee.

On Dec. 31, 2013, the city’s contract with the Shady Grove Fire District will end, and on July 1, 2014, the city’s contract with the Rural Fire District will end, meaning that the city of Pickens will no longer provide fire protection for two county districts, and the $500,000 the city receives in fire fees from the two county districts will be lost once those contracts have ended.

Pickens mayor David Owens said he knows residents are going to be upset about having to pay a fire fee; however, he and the members of Pickens city council are doing what they believe to be in the best interest of the citizens they were elected to protect.

“I fought to keep the fire department, and council is on board, even though we have to charge fire fees to maintain operation of the fire department,” said Owens. “The residents voted us in to take care of them, and that’s what we’re going to do. Even if that means having to set fire fees.”

Owens’ main goal was for the city to maintain control over the fire department so city officials would be able to have a say over what residents pay in fire fees. If control of fire fees goes to the county, there is no way for the city to protect residents, he said.

Another concern for both Owens and council members is that giving up the city’s fire department will have a negative impact on ISO rating, which will ultimately force homeowners within the city limits to pay more for home insurance.

“If we shut down the fire department in the city and have to depend solely on the rural fire district stations, fire response times are going to be much longer, and this impacts ISO ratings,” said Owens. “If ISO ratings increase, homeowners are going to be paying a lot more for homeowner insurance.”

In other words, without a fire department in Pickens City limits, residents would still be faced with paying a fee to the county for rural fire district protection, their ISO ratings will be higher and they will pay more for home insurance, in addition to fire protection fees.

By keeping the fire department operational within the city limits, residents might have to pay a fire fee, but they will be able to maintain a lower ISO rating and not have to spend additional money on homeowners insurance.

“I know people are going to be upset, but we need them to understand that we either keep our fire department or we lose it,” Owens said. “If we lose it, we lose control of our rates. Homeowners insurance is going to go sky high.

“What is most important to us is the safety for our people. We feel like it is safer to keep our fire department, because it ensures a quicker response time for our residents and an ISO rating we can control and keep lower.”

While the city of Pickens will retain its own fire department, it will operate without the services of David Porter — its fire chief whose resignation will take effect on April 30, just a few days prior to what would be his 35th anniversary with the Pickens Fire Department.

Owens read Porter’s letter of resignation aloud at a recent city council meeting and thanked the fire chief for the excellent service he has shown during his tenure with the department.

City administrator Katherine Brackett said that Porter had a long and successful career with the city of Pickens and wished him well in his retirement.