Chatham Fire Subscriptions 2022Frequently Asked Questions
Q. I haven’t received my subscription bill yet, where is it?
A. In December of 2021, the Chatham County Commission voted to fully fund Chatham Fire Department, Fire Operations effective January 1, 2022. As such, subscription mailings have stopped and you will no longer receive annual subscription invoices. Going forward the collection process will be coordinated by Chatham County and CES must defer to them for the specifics. Rest assured that properties in our service areas are protected in the event of a fire and no action is needed on your part.
Q. What is this refund check for?
A. In the event you were not aware, the Chatham County Commission voted to fully fund Chatham Fire Department operations. As such, your paid subscription was eligible for a prorated refund. The amount of the check is the balance owed back as of as of July 1, 2022. Going forward, fire department funding will be invoiced and collected by Chatham County. Rest assured that you are fully protected in the event of a fire and no action is needed on your part from Chatham Fire.
Q. When will I get a new bill from Chatham County?
A. Chatham Fire cannot speak directly regarding the county billing process. However, the county has indicated that bills will arrive through the mail any time between July 1 – September 30, 2022.
Q. How much will it be?
A. Chatham Fire cannot speak for the county fee calculation. However, the county has indicated that bills will be based on the square footage of improved property, which includes all structures that could catch fire and burn and a flat fee for land. Specific information can be obtained on the county informational webpage at www.chathamcountyga.gov/OurCounty/FireServices
Q. Why did this happen?
A. Non-payment of the annual fire subscription fee by approximately 1/3 of property owners in unincorporated Chatham County created a revenue challenge for Chatham Fire. Several years ago, CES approached the county about the escalating deficit and after many town hall meetings and a community survey, the commissioners voted on this as the best option to assure fire protection for unincorporated areas.
Q. Why did I not get a refund?
A. The county collection date was effective July 1, 2022. All paid subscriptions with balances after July 1, 2022 are eligible for a prorated refund from CES based on the July 1 date. Properties that have no balance owed were not eligible for a refund.
Q. Am I protected if the fire department is called? I do not want a large response bill.
A. Yes, everyone in Chatham Fire’s service area is covered and you do not need to worry about any large bill if the fire department is called to your house/business.
Q. How much will the new fee/tax be and when will it be sent out?
A. At this time Chatham County is reviewing various methodologies to be effective on the summer 2022 property assessment notices.
Q. My Home Owners Association (HOA) paid for this historically, what is going to happen?
A. Some HOAs have included fire protection for their residents. However, you need to contact your HOA specifically regarding the future change.
Q. My insurance agent needs a copy of a paid valid subscription. What do I tell them?
A. As Chatham County is fully funding the fire department, there are no more individual subscriptions, nor is “Proof of Fire Protection” needed. Please have your agent call us and we will be happy to update them on these changes. Our business office number is 912-354-1011.
Q. Where can we send questions to or get information from directly at Chatham Emergency Services?
A. Please see their website at www.chathames.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. When was Chatham Emergency Services [Southside Communities Fire Protection, Inc. (SSFD)] founded?
A. Records date back to the 1930s, but incorporation occurred in August 1961. Over 60 years, CES has grown to become a $30M not-for-profit corporation with more than 400 personnel.
Q. What is Chatham Emergency Services (CES) business model?
A. CES is a non-profit organization that was chartered solely to serve the community of unincorporated Chatham County as fire protection was not available from the government. CES operates 14 Fire Stations in unincorporated Chatham County.
Q. What is going on with the County taking over billing for Fire Services?
A. Over the last 2.5 years, CES has been in open discussion with Chatham County and the community regarding the lack of an equitable funding mechanism. Simply, fire services in unincorporated Chatham County were being funded only by those citizens who voluntarily paid their fire subscription. The cost to provide fire services was exceeding the income generated by subscriptions.
Q. Were these discussions publicized?
A. Yes. Town Halls were hosted by County Commissioners in each District. Public workshops were hosted and the issue was discussed and debated several times during scheduled County Commission meetings.
Q. Did the government investigate CES’ financial situation?
A. Yes. CES publishes all tax filings on their website. CES has successfully completed two audits by the Chatham County Government audit team. CES also successfully completed a full on-site Internal Revenue Service Audit within the last four years.
Q. Has CES’ Board of Directors historically conducted annual financial audits on behalf of subscribers?
A. Yes. The financials are audited annually by an independent CPA Firm and are monitored closely (each month) by the non-compensated, Volunteer Board members. Three of those Board members are appointed by the Chatham County Commission.
Q. Do the Board Members have any financial interests in the corporation?
A. No. All Board members volunteer to serve as Directors, have no financial interest in the organization whatsoever, and receive no compensation. Board members, volunteers and employees all pay for their own fire protection.
Q. Does CES provide good value to the citizens?
A. Yes. The University of Georgia Carl Vinson report, a third party that studied fire operations in Chatham County, found that CES’ service area is, “receiving a relatively high level of service at a budget cost. Institute faculty confirmed that the cost basis per station for SSFD operations was substantially less than for Savannah Fire Department, but also less on a per capita basis than other comparison communities.”
Q. How does CES budget compare to the City of Savannah Fire Department?
A. The CES Fire Operations Budget is approximately $13M per year. That is one-third (1/3) of the budget the City of Savannah has for Fire Protection that has 15 stations.
Q. Are CES’ records open to review?
A. Yes, in accordance to government regulations. In addition, CES historically hosts an annual public meeting including a financial review and discussion.
Q. In general, how is executive compensation determined?
A. CES has four distinct operational functions: Fire, EMS, Fire Watch and Cellular Tower Leasing. The engagement with Chatham County to fund fire services does include a very small percentage of the executive compensation for the small suite of four professionals who manage these four businesses. These positions include the CEO, COO, Human Resources Director and Director of Finance. Executive salaries are allocated proportionally to the size and activities of each business.
Q. Please tell me more about the four different businesses and the executive team?
A. The Executive Team oversees four (4) businesses: Countywide Emergency Medical Services – operating the fourth largest emergency ambulance fleet in the State of Georgia; Fire Protection Services – operating 14 Unincorporated Area Fire Stations; Cellular Tower Leasing services – operating seven cellular towers, and Firewatch services at various port locations. The proportionate Executive Compensation allocations are as follows: EMS=50% of executive salaries, Fire=30%, Cellular towers and Support=18%, and Firewatch=2%. Compensation includes: salary, paid time off (PTO), additional life insurance policy payments, additional AD&D insurance policy payments, etc. Tax return figures are a roll up of all these items and therefore appear inflated.
Q. Who oversees the executive compensation?
A. Executive compensation is closely monitored by the Board of Directors, who again are not compensated nor have any financial interest in the not-for-profit and three Directors are appointed by the County.
Q. Was executive compensation researched?
A. Yes. The Board engaged a national search firm that assisted in hiring the CEO in 2016. The Board of Directors also conducted an executive compensation study for not-for-profit corporations of similar size, complexity, asset value, net worth and annual revenue by the national search firm. Further benchmarking was conducted using industry standards for compensation. The results were that CES was 30% below the market related to executive compensation, which matches the organization ethos of doing more with less and strong stewardship of income.
Q. How much does the Fire Protection Operations contribute to executive salaries?
A. The fire operation contributes roughly 30% of the executive compensation. The vast majority of executive compensation (70%) is funded via the other operational endeavors.
Q. Who reviews your monthly fire operations expenditures?
A. Chatham County’s financial department and auditors vigorously review all monthly expenses paid by the County to CES.
Q. Is it fair and accurate to compare the CES executive salaries with those of another agency’s Fire Chief?
Absolutely not. The true comparison of Executive compensation should be measured between the compensation of Fire Chief positions and not the Executives. The Executives have responsibility for four businesses. The Fire Chief has one. CES’ Fire Chief is undercompensated in comparison to fire departments of like size in the area.
Q. Is it fair and accurate to compare the CES executive salaries with those of another agency’s EMS Chief?
A. Absolutely not. An EMS Chief’s salary should only be compared to another EMS Chief’s salary in a similar sized operation with similar responsibilities. Anything else would not be an “apples to apples” comparison.