Fee for Providing Fire Protection May be Charged to County Owned Property

The Clark County Town of Hoard enacted an ordinance imposing an annual fee on all property owners within the Town for the cost of fire protection, whether they actually used the service or not – in other words whether there was a fire or some other incident or not. Clark County owned some property in the Town on which was located a medical center.

Pursuant to the ordinance, the Town sent the County a bill for the fee for fire protection. The County, apparently, refused to pay the bill, and the Town sued. (See Town of Hoard v. Clark County, decided in November of 2015 – note: the County could appeal this case to the Supreme Court, so this may not be the final outcome).

The County claimed that the fee for the fire protection was actually a tax, because it was not a fee for fire protection actually provided, but only for potential fire protection. The County argued that since it is exempt from taxation, should not be required to pay the tax.

In reviewing the Statute, § 60.55, the Court determined that the Town was required to provide for fire protection to the entire Town, and was permitted to “Charge property owners a fee for the cost of fire protection provided to their property.”  The County argued that this meant fire protection actually had to be provided to a specific property, and the Town could not impose the fee for the cost of having a fire department.  But the Court determined, based on case law, that Towns could impose a fee on all properties, so long as it was reasonably related to the actual costs of providing the protection.  The Town showed that the fees for fire protection were directly related to the cost of having a fire department (in this case, a fire department composed of several municipalities).  The Court upheld the ordinance.