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Town won't pay tax for fire station

NEWBORN - Newborn will not pay an invoice from Newton County for the town's insurance premium tax to fund operations at Fire Station No. 6 on Ga. Highway 213, the Town Council agreed April 7.

The funds were due in December, but the council delayed payment because some members wanted to use the money for other purposes.

Newton County sent an invoice to the town in the amount of $28,443 on March 14, according to Newton County Executive Officer John Middleton.

Now, the council has voted not to pay the invoice, because the last insurance premium tax disbursement the town received in late 2007 covered collections for the year 2006, predating the town's agreement with the county, Councilwoman Suzanne Bean said.

Town Attorney Joe Reitman determined the council was not required to designate the money to the fire station, Bean said.

"Members of the council felt like that particular period of the insurance premium tax should not have been designated to go to the fire station because it served a year that had nothing to do with the new fire station. We had a volunteer fire station (in 2006)," she said.

Based on this interpretation, the disbursement the town will receive later this year covering 2007 would be owed to the county, she said.

When asked if the council intended to pay that money toward the fire station, Bean said she could not comment.

The town attorney sent a letter alerting the county of the council's vote, she said.

Scott Cole, a lawyer with the County Attorney's Office, confirmed the county had received the letter.

"We're taking a look at that and trying to evaluate the contract," he said. "I don't know how we will proceed from here."

Newborn entered into a contract with Newton County and the city of Mansfield committing its annual insurance premium tax to maintenance and operations of the fire station.

Insurance premium taxes are collected by the state on insurance premiums sold within a district, a percentage of which is disbursed to local governments.

The city of Mansfield has already paid its $25,000 insurance premium tax disbursement, Mayor William Cocchi said.

Residents of Newborn have said they are concerned the town will not receive fire service or will have to pay for the station to respond to calls if the town does not uphold its end of the contract.

According to Fire Chief Mike Satterfield, Station No. 6 has answered a total of 105 calls since opening late last year. The number of calls originating inside the city limits of Newborn was 49, amounting to 47 percent of all calls.

Newborn Mayor J.W. Cummings said the town is entitled to fire protection since the service is covered in the fire district tax.

That tax is collected from a separate millage levied by the county to the Newborn and Mansfield fire districts. Those taxes, collected by the county annually, were previously used to fund volunteer fire services in the district but are now earmarked to fund station operations.

About $9,000 is collected annually from Newborn in fire district taxes, according to Middleton.

In February, Councilwoman Wanda Cummings told the Citizen that the county initially indicated that only the town's fire district tax would be applied to the station, but that at the last minute the county "demanded" the town's insurance premium tax, as well.

District 1 County Commissioner Mort Ewing, who negotiated the agreement with Mansfield and Newborn, said both councils had the chance to review a draft contract and make revisions before approving the final document.

Wanda Cummings said the council was considering purchasing a garbage truck to pick up fallen limbs or a bucket truck to do in-house tree maintenance with the insurance premium funds.

The council approved the purchase of a $28,000 dump truck in March, but Mayor Cummings said the truck will be paid for through the street and water department funds, not from the insurance money.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.