QUESTION: Why has the city of Burlington contracted an out-of-state billing company to collect fees that it recently began to charge area businesses for fire inspections? How much does this company receive for its services?
ANSWER: Some Burlington business owners may’ve had the sneaking suspicion that a hole was about to burn through their wallets when they learned that the city would start charging a fee for routine fire inspections.
This new assessment was formally introduced last summer in the city’s current annual budget in order to cover the cost of a revised method for calculating the workweek of firefighters in the city’s employ. The new calculation method, which had been deemed fairer to shift workers, was also expected to drive up the fire department’s outlays on overtime. To compensate, Burlington’s city manager Hardin Watkins proposed a new fee for fire inspections that ranges from $69 to $319 depending on the square footage of a particular business.
In order to collect this new fee, the city has retained the services of a Georgia-based outfit called Fire Recovery, U.S.A. According to Burlington’s fire chief Jay Mebane, billing agencies like Fire Recovery, U.S.A. have generally been an effective expedient for communities that charge fees for fire inspections.
“It’s typical for agencies in the fire service to use third party vendors to collect inspections fees,” the city’s fire chief explained in an interview earlier this week.
Mebane acknowledged that the decision to retain Fire Recovery, U.S.A. had been made before he took over the helm of the fire department last fall. He added, however, that the same Georgia-based firm also provides similar services for the fire departments in Greensboro and Durham. Mebane went on to concede that the company receives a flat payment of $18.50 for every fee it collects on behalf of its clients in Burlington.