The need for more firefighters in Bryan County’s biggest city is credited for sweeping support of the new fire fee adopted in Richmond Hill this week. The city council approved the measure Tuesday night. Mayor Pro Tem, Tara Baraniak, says people in the city educated themselves about their need to expand the ranks of firefighters, “Staffing is an issue. We’ve been talking about this since last spring. Um, the fire department is in need of more staff and, and equipment. Our last fire chief helped bring our fire department up to the 21st Century. With that being said we’re still woefully behind. Um, We’ve seen the need, um, we’re addressing it now. Our job is to keep our residents and our fire department safe and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Baraniak said.
The Richmond Hill Fire Department currently has 18 full-time employees, but three of those positions are administrative, leaving 15 firefighters to provide round-the-clock fire protection for a city of nearly 13,000 people. Right now, they work 3, 24-hour shifts, each staffed with 5 firefighters. The new fee will allow the city to hire three more firefighters this year and another three in 2020.
The new fire fee passed unanimously in council, but Baraniak says finding a formula everyone could live with wasn’t easy, “We wanted to make sure things were fair. Fair to all of our residents and our businesses. After looking at everything there was no fair, absolute fair way to do it. um, we looked at several different scenarios and at the end of the day we said this is the most fair way to do it was the flat fee,” she said, adding, “We could have done it by square footage, we could have gone by how businesses built their particular buildings, um, and it would have had it but it would have had businesses, some businesses paying thousands of dollars,” Baraniak said.
The new fee will cost homeowners $185 dollars and for business owners, it’s $250 dollars. Baraniak adds one other big selling point for the passage of the fire feel is that the funds can only be used for the fire department.