By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
Some residents on Hodges Drive received an unexpected bill last month from the Mt. Olive Fire Department.
In a letter sent by Mt. Olive Fire Chief Chip Cousins, the residents on Hodges Drive were notified that they owed back fire dues to the department from the period of 2004-2008.
In 2004, the Hodges Drive neighborhood voted to become a part of the Mt. Olive fire district and the Jefferson County Commission approved the annexation. Hodges Drive is located off of Fieldstown Road, shortly before the intersection of Fieldstown and Coalburg Road.
Cousins said because of an error in the county assessor’s office, several residents were not charged fire dues over the course of the four-year period. He said the homeowners were never taken out of district 1 and placed in district 44, which is the Mt. Olive Fire Department’s district.
The county normally collects the dues and then redistributes them back to the fire department. How much each resident pays in dues is based on a one mil assessment of the homeowner’s property.
“We’ve talked to several of the property owners down there and they all understand,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any problems and several have already paid.”
Michael Stewart, a 30-year resident of Hodges Drive, owes about $70 to the department. He said though he’s never had to use the department, he didn’t mind paying the bill.
“It ain’t the fire department’s fault,” he said. “This was a mistake the county made.”
Cousins said before he became chief in the spring, the department had no mechanism to track the collection of the dues from newly annexed property owners. Now if there is a new annexation, the department checks with the county tax assessor to ensure the property has been placed in the correct district.
He said he had no idea what the total sum of dues sent to the residents would be and that the real issue is more about those receiving the benefits of the fire department paying their share of the dues.
Cousins said so far, Hodges Drive residents have been pleasant about receiving the bills, which range in price from less than $100 to more than $400. The department is not charging interest or late fees because of the oversight. Though fire dues are normally due by Dec. 31 of each year, property owners will have until March 1 to remit payment.
“If they need extra time, we’ll work with them,” he said. “It’s to our advantage to work the the homeowners any way we can.”
By Adam Smith