A set of new fees by the county’s fire marshal could generate more than $1 million annually.
The fire marshal’s office, a division of the county’s fire rescue department, is mandated by state government to enforce fire and life safety regulations for businesses by issuing construction and special activity permits, providing reviews and inspections for alarm and detection systems, automatic sprinkler systems and hood suppression system.
Currently, DeKalb does not charge a fee for the services provided by the fire marshal’s office. These services are subsidized by taxpayers.
In his proposal to the Board of Commissioners, Fire Marshal Jerry Wainright stated the county should “require individuals and businesses to pay for the fire marshal services they utilize.”
“DeKalb is the only county in the region that does not charge for fire marshal services, and the vast majority of the fees proposed are lower than the surrounding region,” Wainright stated. “Therefore, imposing these fees will not make the county any less competitive in the region, and it will more fairly allocate the costs of the services being provided.”
According to Wainright, it costs approximately $1.3 million to operate the fire marshal’s office. The proposed fees could generate at least $1 million in the first year.
According to the proposed fee schedule, county businesses would be required to pay fees ranging from $100-$150 for the initial review or inspections provided by the fire marshal’s office.
“The total of the listed proposed fees are only a small portion of the fire-related fees that the comparable municipalities charge,” Wainright stated. “By adopting the fee ordinance, a revenue source would be created that would pay for replacing the vacant positions, which would increase efficiency and increase ability to provide better customer service.”
Wainwright stated that by adding more inspectors to the fire marshal’s office, a group of inspectors could be dedicated to inspecting the required annual maintenance and certification of fire/life safety components of existing businesses.
“In doing this, the inspectors would also be able to audit all businesses for a business license or certificate of occupancy,” Wainright stated. This would identify unlicensed businesses operating in the county and require them to conform to county requirements and therefore increase the county’s business database.
Wainright said that a small survey of businesses showed that 22 percent are not operating legally.
The additional revenue would enable the fire marshal’s office to fill its fire plan review lead position, allowing the office “to look at all business plans coming into the county,” Wainright said.
“Many businesses less than 3,000 square feet are not being reviewed for either life safety codes or handicapped accessibility, which exposes the county to a certain amount of liability,” Wainright said.
The revenue would also allow Wainright to address issues that need to be handled in the field by a supervisor.
“The inspections supervisor position is vacant and four of the six [inspectors] have only one year of experience,” Wainright said. “These inspectors deal directly with the business owners, contractors and architects and need experienced supervision as they are still learning themselves.”
The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the fees in its March 13 meeting during which Commissioner Kathie Gannon said the fees should be monitored to make the fire marshal’s office self-sufficient.