Macon, Jackson negotiate payment for services
Macon County is asking Jackson County for money to pay for providing services to its residents in Highlands, but Jackson officials are exploring other alternatives, including establishing fire districts and levying a tax.
Macon County has requested about $160,000 from Jackson County to continue offering emergency services to residences in Highlands that are technically located in Jackson County. While Jackson County receives the property tax revenue from these homes, Macon County is burdened with the responsibility of providing emergency services.
Macon County Commissioner Jim Tate told the board during a Jan. 13 meeting that while investigating a county line dispute in the Highlands area, he began discovering just how many services Macon County provides to the Jackson County portion of Highlands, particularly homes in Wildcat Cliffs Country Club, Highlands Falls Country Club and Cullasaja Country Club.
Tate said the county line dispute was brought to light several years ago when a constituent asked why he was being taxed for 8 acres in Jackson and 5 acres in Macon when he only owned 10 acres of property.
While the counties are waiting for the state to do a survey of the land to figure it out once and for all, Macon officials hope the two counties can come to some agreement on their own.
“The (county) line looks like a double helix and does some overlapping,” Tate said. “There’s a lot of tax value in that area.”
Highlands Fire Department is the first department to respond to this area of Jackson County per a mutual aid agreement with Cashiers-Glenville-Sapphire Volunteer Fire Department, and 911 calls made from the area go directly to Macon County dispatch. Highlands Fire Department is getting ready to install a new substation on Cherrywood Drive, and many Jackson County homeowners will benefit from the additional fire protection.
Residents located within 6 miles of the substation could see their fire insurance rating go from a class 9 or 10 to a class 5, which will significantly decrease their annual premiums.
“Macon County is going to be paying some of it but it will be serving a lot of Jackson County,” Tate said.
Jackson County currently pays the Highlands Fire Department $7,300 a year, but Macon officials don’t think it’s enough. Macon County Manager Derek Roland said the area in question included 332 parcels with a $445 million value, according to Jackson County tax records. He said that meant that one household in that neighborhood could save up to $6,000 a year on fire insurance by being upgraded to a class 5.
Tate added that those 332 parcels were landlocked — meaning there’s no way for residents to get to Jackson County without going through Macon first. Based on Jackson’s tax rate 28 cents per $100 of assessed value, he said he was able to establish that Jackson brings in about $1.2 million in property tax revenue and disposal fees for property that is mainly serviced by Macon County.
“We’re their primary fire department, EMS and 911 service,” he said. “Their trash comes to our landfills and they use our schools and recreation system because it’s just closer and makes sense,” Tate said.
With the help of county department heads, Tate estimates that Macon County spends about $160,000 per year to serve those 332 parcels — 188 of those parcels contain structures according to Jackson County records.
“It’s the right thing for Macon County to assist those people because we’re closer and because it might take Cashiers 20 minutes to get to one of those Highlands’ homes,” he said.
Roland said he sent Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten an email about Macon County’s position and looks forward to reaching some kind of agreement between the two county governments.
“Macon County needs to do the right thing and continue to provide these services, but it also makes sense and it’s the right thing to do for Jackson County to compensate us for those services,” Roland said.
“All we want to do is break even and receive our fair share,” Tate said.
In the email to Wooten, Roland requested $38,232 for fire protection services based on Macon County’s Fire Tax District formula. He also requested $77,635 in reimbursements for EMS services, $30,191 for 911 dispatch services and $13,752 for landfill services for a total of almost $160,000 a year.
Wooten said Jackson County Commissioners would be happy to take Macon’s proposal into consideration, but they may have their own ideas about the best solution moving forward.
“We’re now looking at this whole concept of service districts like Macon has,” he said.
Setting up fire districts would allow Jackson to contract with the Highlands Fire Department and Highlands would receive a portion of the tax revenue collected for that district instead of the $7,300 stipend.
“When we first heard about this I made a call to Randy Dillard (Cashiers fire chief) because if he doesn’t support it, it wouldn’t work,” Wooten said. “But Randy isn’t opposed to giving up property in the district.”
In an email back to Roland, Wooten said there is a lot of work to do before a district could be established and that commissioners would probably begin discussing the issue Jan. 20 at their annual planning retreat.
Todd Dillard, Jackson’s emergency management director, would be the one to work with the Highlands Fire Department to determine the boundary lines and parcels within each of the service districts.
Wooten said the other issue was the cost of solid waste services being incurred by Macon County. He said he was unaware until recently that all trash from the country clubs was being taken to Macon County’s landfill.
He said the clubs’ membership/homeowner dues include disposable waste fees and trash from the clubs is hauled to the Macon County landfill. Jackson County will need to obtain certification from Macon County showing that it is providing solid waste service to that area. Jackson County can then waive the assessment to those homes for solid waste and allow Macon County to charge them.
Wooten said he was hopeful the two counties could reach an amicable agreement.
“It’s reasonable to reimburse them for that cost, but how to establish that needs to be developed,” he said.