Residents living outside Harlem gathered Tuesday to discuss upcoming changes in fire service and the possibility of annexation at a town hall meeting hosted by city officials.
Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said the proposed changes to fire service includes fee collection through property tax bills instead of subscription fees for citizens served by the city's fire department but not living inside the city limits.
Dean said Columbia County officials offered two options to pay the city to continue serving its district outside the city - a flat monthly rate based on the current department budget or a per-call fee.
City officials prefer the flat rate because, "how do you budget when you don't know how many fire calls you'll have?" Dean said.
Though resident's voiced concerns over the raise in property taxes and the effect on residents if the city's contract is not renewed, most were more interested in the discussions about annexation into Harlem.
Dean explained benefits to annexing property into the city, which include smaller water bills for people outside the city using the city's water, garbage pick-up and a stronger voice for SPLOST, special purpose location option sales tax, and LOST, local option sales tax, allocations.
"We would have to see some benefit there," said Ken Meyer, who lives on Browns Road and said he would support being annexed for city water and sewer services.
More funds could mean extending water and sewer lines to annexed residents but not right away, Dean said.
Properties have to be contiguous to city property to be eligible to annex or large tracts need 60 percent of the property and 60 percent of residents in an area to agree to annexation.
If a resident wants to annex into the city, Columbia County officials have to be notified but cannot take action to stop it, Dean said.
"It is not a power grab, it is a representation grab," Dean said. "(Annexation) will help make sure this area gets the representation it needs, especially in the areas of SPLOST and LOST."
Dean said he would like to see the city spread to Interstate 20 to help manage the growth he expects there.
"What is the bottom line? The difference between county and city is community," Dean said. "Harlem is a community, and we want everybody to be a part of that community."
The city will hold a second town hall meeting to discuss fire service and annexation at 10 a.m. Saturday in the auditorium of Harlem High School.
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