Homeowners’ fire district challenge going to highest court

Supreme Court Health CareDIAMONDHEAD — The U.S. Supreme Court will consider May 15 whether to hear an appeal over whether a Mississippi fire protection district can charge a fee for its services to local property owners.

Court officials say a decision could be announced shortly after the court conference.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Diamondhead Fire Protection District last year. A group of Diamondhead property owners, who had sued in 2009, appealed to the nation’s high court.

Hancock County Circuit Judge Roger Clark ruled in 2012 that the fire protection district had authority to assess fees for “services rendered” and the monthly fee was not a tax.

Court records show the fire protection district was created in 1974. Since 1993, it has charged local property owners a monthly fee for fire protection services. The county also provides funding through a local tax.

Clark said the DFPD “provides services in a variety of ways other than simply putting out a fire or filling a fire extinguisher, services for which plaintiffs maintain property owners could be charged.”

The property owners argued they receive a service from the fire department only if the department responds to an emergency call and that the assessed fees are really for “anticipatory services.”

The district said many day-to-day actions are required for it to have the ability to put out fires including maintaining and repairing equipment, having certified and experienced firefighters available and conducting public fire and life safety education training programs.

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