Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Fire Protection Fees

The Mississippi Supreme Court handed down a fire service ruling last week in the case of Alfonso v. Diamondhead Fire Protection District.

Diamondhead FPD has imposed a monthly service fee on property owners going back 20 years. In 2009 several property owners filed suit to challenge the fee claiming it was an illegal tax. The plaintiffs also alleged the district was negligent in imposing the fees and committed extortion in the collection process.

The trial court determined the DFPD’s charge for fire-protection services was a permissible fee for services rendered, not a tax, and thus was legal under Mississippi law.

The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the trial court, and rejected the distinction offered by the property owners – that the fee was really a tax because it was collected without regard to whether services were rendered. According to the property owners, a service fee could only be lawfully assessed for services actually rendered. Service fees assessed without regard to whether a service was actually provided would make it a tax.

The court dispensed with that distinction quite handily, pointing to the numerous services that the fire department provides to property owners in the community without actually responding to their property for an emergency, including: repairing and maintaining equipment; training and being available to respond; pre-incident planning; hydrant inspections; public safety education; etc.

“We find that the DFPD provides a valuable service by having fire and other emergency services available to respond to an emergency. Therefore, the fee assessed is permissible. The trial court’s judgment is affirmed.”

Here is a copy of the ruling: Alfonso v Diamondhead FPD

 

Incidentally, for the folks from RITF01 – this is the same Diamondhead community located in Hancock County, Mississippi that we worked in back in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
x

Check Also

Court of Appeals Holds that Terminal Leave Counts Toward Pension Credits

The Appellate Court of Illinois has ruled that a former fire chief was entitled to pension credit for the four and one-half months he was on paid administrative leave prior to his retirement. The case involved the former fire chief for the Orland Fire Protection District, Kenneth Brucki.

Suit Claims LAFD Medics Dropped Patient Fracturing Her Leg

A woman who claims Los Angeles City Fire Department medics dropped her while transferring her from her bed to a wheel chair, has filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Marcia Hayes claims her leg was fractured requiring surgery after she was carelessly and negligently dropped on December 3, 2021.