PICKENS COUNTY — The Pickens County Council meeting room was standing room only Monday night where, in a special called meeting, council voted unanimously to suspend the controversial and newly implemented vacant land fire fee.
The fee, which was implemented as part of the 2015-16 budget, was intended to offset county expenses for responding to fire calls and help improve fire protection services throughout the county.
“It has come to the attention of County Council that the current implementation of the Fire Fee is inconsistent with the policy goals of of Council … and impacts many citizens of the County in an unfair and unintended manner,” read the resolution to suspend the fee.
More than 20 people signed up to speak during the public forum at council’s regularly scheduled meeting later that evening, mostly concerning the fee.
“Thank you for what you just did earlier tonight,” said Mary Bowden of the Flat Rock community. “By doing this, taking away the fees, you have at least temporarily taken care of our concerns, or at least, my family’s concerns.”
Bowden stated that her family would have had to pay $1,000 in new fire fees.
“I don’t think of this land as ‘vacant,’” said Bowden. “It’s farm land, it’s pasture land, it’s timber land and we’re doing things to help the economy in Pickens County.
“I believe in the fees, I think that we have to pay our fair share,” continued Bowden. “I just don’t think (the fire fee) was a fair share.”
According to the resolution, taxpayers who have already paid their 2015 taxes will be refunded “as soon as possible.” Property owners who have a tax bill with the fee included should delay payment until a new, corrected tax bill is sent.
“This was just as much of a surprise to us as it was to you,” said Councilman G. Neil Smith. “The implementation (of the fire fee) was not even close to what we had discussed … The implementation was flawed.”
“I’m going to put this on staff’s head because we (council) made it very clear what we wanted and that’s not what happened,” said Councilman Trey Whitehurst.
The suspended fire fee was sent to Council’s Committee of the Whole for further study and action with directions that it be ready for the 2016-17 budget.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.