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Fire fee issue still smoldering

By Sherri Ellington The Lamar County commission is taking the heat for once again flubbing 2010 fire and ambulance fee bills. Several citizens spoke out against the re-billing of what was meant for only those who had not paid their fees. Instead, many people who received bills had already paid. ’We took a beating and all we can do is apologize,’ said commissioner Jimmy Hearn. ‘It was a good concept but we didn’t do it right. It was like trying to hem up Jell-O. There was no ill intent.’ Commissioners gave far-ranging estimates of people who had not paid, with chairman Jay Matthews saying it was more than 200 and Hearn putting the number at about 2,000 property owners. The fees that were paid came to about $600,000. ’There were multiple errors and it all went downhill from there,’ said Matthews. ‘I can’t say how many owe now but we will know. I know people are frustrated. We’re frustrated with it.’ Ray Chambers, the first to speak, noted he was wearing a fire department T-shirt but was no longer a local firefighter. ’I quit in protest last year because of the fire and ambulance fees,’ Chambers said. ‘Now I get a letter from the county saying you’re going to sue me or whatever because I haven’t paid it. I’m not going to pay it; it’s an unfair bill. You can put me in jail or do whatever you want.’ James Scott said he was told nothing could be done about it. ’I want about $100 back,’ he said. ‘Medicare pays for my ambulance services but I paid it after you threatened to turn it over to a lawyer. That wasn’t sweet in your mouth. I don’t want any junk mail coming to my house.’ ’If we don’t collect the fire and ambulance fee from everybody I plan to get mine back too,’ said commissioner Benny Horton. John Samek, who was not on the list of public speakers but allowed to speak anyway, argued that, because of delays that had the fee coming due in 2011 plus a one mill tax hike that year, it constituted double taxation. ’I went before the board of equalization for my taxes,’ Samek said. ‘I also asked the tax commissioner for an explanation. You can just call a spade a spade.’ He noted with the 1.5% per month late penalty versus his fire insurance premiums, ‘I’d be better off stretching out the fee for six years. If you have a fire and ambulance fee in the future I will get a lawyer.’

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