Departments split about placing annual memberships on tax bills

Last updated: March 13. 2014 2:48PM - 968 Views
By - ostapleton@newsdemocratleader.com

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The Logan County fiscal court held a special called meeting on Tuesday night to hear from the various volunteer fire departments around the county about funding issues. The main topic that was debated was the proposal by the Russellville and Auburn rural departments that would allow the annual fire department dues to be placed on the county property tax bills.

Placing the dues on property tax bills had come up at previous meeting and the court called the meeting this week in order to be able to hear from all the other fire departments.

And as it turns out, the other three county departments are against it.

Representatives from the Adairville, Lewisburg and Olmstead rural fire departments all came before the court and said that they were against adding the fire dues to the tax bills.

“The fire departments need to be funded in a different manner than putting another line on the property tax bill,” said Olmstead assistant chief Lynn Dawson.

Currently all the individual departments ask that those living in their districts pay an annual membership fee. If the fire department has to make a fire run to the members houses during the year, they will not be charged any further fee. However, anyone that has not paid their membership dues will be charged up to $500 by the responding fire department.

All the fire departments noted that only about a third of the residents in their districts pays their annual dues. So by making the dues a part of the tax bills, all the departments could potentially see a significant increase in funds. Tax payers could still opt out of paying the dues, however, and would be able to get that money refunded if they request it.

Auburn Rural chief Jim Kutzman said that nearly everyone he spoke with about the possible change was positive about it.

“The most important thing about this is to educate the public that this is not a tax - it’s a membership fee,” Kutzman said.

The proposed fee would be $30 per year.

“That’s only $2.50 per month,” Kutzman said. “That’s the cost of a Coke and a candy bar.”

Russellville Rural chief Cheryl Allen said that she believed in the proposal so much that she was willing to go door to door in order to help educate the public about it.

Even with efforts to educate the public, the magistrates were not sure about implementing the proposal.

“Putting it on the tax bill is going to be a hard sell,” said Russell Poore, who said he was hesitant to do anything when the fire departments had not reached a consensus.

Magistrate Drexel Johnson said that everyone he had talked in his district to about the proposal was against it.

“They’re looking down the road and thinks that it could be abused,” Johnson said. “Once it gets started, the fee could be raised. I think people are afraid of it.”

No decisions were made but the court did discuss the possibility of raising funding for the fire departments without adding anything to the tax bill.

Currently each department receives $30,000 annually from the fiscal court - despite the size of the department and the area it serves.

“Some of those fire departments cover more people and they need more funds than we do in Olmstead,” Dawson said. “We don’t necessarily have to do as much as some of these other departments, even though we get the same amount of money. I realize some of the other departments deserve more funding.”

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