2018-02-10 / Front Page

VFD request unlike any other

BY BIL WILCOX
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER

County Manager Heidi York told commissioners during their budget retreat Monday that the 76 percent increase in funding proposed for volunteer fire departments is unprecedented.

“A 76 percent increase in funding in one year is what they are requesting,” she said. “To give you some context on that, we haven’t had double digit increases for other needs than I can ever remember.”

The Fire Chiefs Association has proposed a 4.25-cent fire tax that includes 1.4 cents (per $100 valuation) in additional funds.

Put another way, the volunteer fire departments currently receive about $669,000 annually and they are requesting $512,374 (1.4 cents) in additional funding.

The VFDs are proposing a formula that would set $60,000 for the first station. If there is an additional station in the department, they would receive $45,000 for that station.

“And then they are asking for $400,000 that would be distributed by property values per district,” she said. “I’m taking that strictly from their proposal, but let me clarify, per district, they are not actually using their fire tax district maps, they are using the dispatch lines which are not actually official lines, so they would not require us to redraw maps. There are some advantages to that.”

However, she said Tax Collector Russell Jones had advised her this could be an issue down the road in terms of fairness and agreements among stations.

“I don’t see this formula as some- thing that is without controversy in terms of the $400,000,” she said.

York then read from the template document signed by five VFDs who stated they intended to no longer provide services “until the conditions of funding in the Proposed Contracted Emergency Service Tax are met.”

She then went over the options available to commissioners:

• Implement a Fire Tax - can set rate for full 4.25 cents or 1.4 cents.

• Implement a quarter of a cent Sales Tax increase and set an amount of funding for the VFDs.

• Creat an alternative funding formula: Example: $49,999 for first station;

$45,000 for second station; $10,000 for capital per district.

• Redistribute funding to those departments willing to continue serving their community, with possible contracts for additional coverage.

Jones also mentioned that one penny on the tax rate for the coming budget would be about $468,000, more than a penny in the current year of $439,000.

Jones also said there were issues with the timing of a fire tax.

“It takes at least four weeks to get it in place,” he said, “so you have to decide you want a fire tax. You have to prepare a report to say you have to have a fire tax to provide the service.”

Then fire district maps need to be drawn up, although in this case it would be simple, just all parts of the county except the city.

“You have to publish that map,” Jones said, “and no earlier than four weeks after that map is published you have to have a public hearing, so if you’re waiting for what the sales tax is going to do, on May 8th, your next meeting is on May 18th. Then the earliest you could have a public hearing for the fire tax would be June 16th, so you are running out of time very quickly if you’re waiting on a sales tax.”

York clarified the dates that commissioners will meet. The first meeting in May is May 7th, the primary is May 8th, and the next board meeting is May 21st.

Jones said commissioners could have a public hearing on the fire tax at their second meeting in June. This could cause a problem with getting the motor vehicle taxes out in time. They go out every month so if they are delayed the county would miss a month of taxes.

Property tax notices would go out later so the county would not see any income from the fire tax until early August, meaning some sort of budget amendment would be required to fund the VFDs in the meantime.

Return to top