COVINGTON, Ga. - In the wake of constituent complaints about skyrocketing insurance premiums on Newton County's east side, two commissioners are pushing for short and long term solutions to fire protection problems plaguing that part of the county.
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards and District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said at the Jan. 21 board of commissioners meeting that homeowners can't wait until a new fire station is built to get relief.
"I'm not exactly sure how we got where we are now," Edwards said, "but I can tell you in the last couple of months, since people in District 1 and District 5 started getting their insurance premium renewals, I have seen some that have quadrupled. People have lived in that home for 50 or more years and through no fault of their own, their insurance quadruples.
"I think a new fire station is an absolute necessity now, but we've got to find something in the interim. And I'm not going to let the issue go until we've found something. It's unconscionable to me to ask people to pay that much more in insurance premiums when probably they would have gladly agreed to a tax increase to cover another fire station out there."
Edwards said it's not important to place blame talk about how the situation came about. He said what's important finding a solution to the problem.
Insurance agent and resident of the Starrsville community Dean Hayes said closing the county's volunteer fire stations in the area led to a lower ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings for the area, resulting in the higher premiums.
"The effect of closing these volunteer fire stations, for whatever reason it was, has an incredibly large effect on I don't know how many - thousands or ten of thousands of families in our community," he said.
Hayes explained that the ISO rates communities on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst.
"We are, in fact, rated now in a protection class 10," he said.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr said that many of the volunteer stations were undermanned, and often did not have enough volunteers trained and certified to actually go into a burning structure and fight fire. He also said the slower response times from volunteer stations, such as fire station 4, worked against the county as a whole.
"We were told by our auditor that if we included that station, the length of the response times would have a negative impact on the whole county, so we told them not to count that station," he said.
Cowan said the county needs to come up with a short term solution even as it works toward a new fire station.
"I know this is going to cost the county some money. No doubt, I support a fire station in that area," he said, " but in the mean time, I know the cost of temporary solution is expensive, but sometimes you have to deal with that.."
Cowan suggested the county look into leasing commercial buildings in the area capable of housing a fire apparatus. He also suggested hiring already trained full time firefighters to work part time to staff a temporary station in the area.
"If ISO allows a probationary type situation, if we can put a plan together, this is some options they can look at," he said.
"From what I'm hearing, we've got people with tremendous increases insurance and we've got to find a solution to make it work. We've got to put together a plan to satisfy the insurance standards office to make sure that they don't pass on the rate increases at this point. Maybe they can defer them for period of time until they have a chance to review our plan and where we're going with things."
Commissioners discussed issuing bonds for the construction of a new fire station or using funds from the county's cash reserve. According to Kerr, the estimated total cost of building and staffing a new station, including the purchase of a new fire truck will be around $4.5 million.
The board tabled a vote on how to fund the new station until its Feb. 4 meeting.