Tax rate for South Summit Fire increases 145 percent
The governing body of the South Summit Fire Protection District unanimously approved a nearly 150 percent increase to the district’s tax rate Wednesday, despite receiving pushback from the community.
More than 60 people crammed into the fire station in Oakley for a Truth-in-Taxation hearing. About 10 members of the Fire District were among the crowd. While most people made it clear they supported the Fire District’s operations, they overwhelmingly opposed the significant hike, with many questioning why it wasn’t done incrementally. It did not require voter approval.
The Fire District’s tax rate will go from .000264 to .000649, about a 145 percent increase in 2019. It amounts to $129.80 annually on a primary residence with a taxable value of $200,0000. Fire officials said the revenue will be used to provide a stipend for members of the Fire District and pay for the construction of a new fire station.
Lorie Leavitt, who lives in Peoa, said in an interview the increase caught her off guard. She admitted she hasn’t paid attention to the meetings the South Summit Fire Protection District’s Board has held over the last several months. But, she said it was still a surprise when she received the public notice 30 days ago.
The new rate will have a significant impact on Leavitt’s property taxes because she owns several properties. Leavitt estimated the increase will cost her roughly an extra $2,000 a year. But, like many who attended the meeting, she commended the members of the Fire District for their service.
“They do a great job and I know they need new equipment,” she said. “If I call 911, I expect someone to show up and I expect them to have the proper equipment. We can’t keep growing like we are and not putting money toward these services. That’s just what it is.”
The Fire District has not increased its rate since 1980.
Chief Scott Anderson said in an interview the board has discussed raising the rate for the last five years, while considering several other options, including a bond or loan. Some of the people who spoke at the hearing strongly urged the board to consider a bond.
“I know they were looking for a bond and we did seek counsel on a bond, loans and tax increases. We looked at all kinds of things,” he said. “The tax increase just fit our needs and such. It is the best option at this time.”
The Fire District has operated on a roughly $500,000 annual budget over the last two years, with the largest portion coming from taxes, impact fees and grants. Under the current tax rate, the Fire District collected $260,000 in 2018. The new rate is estimated to bring an additional $600,000 of revenue a year. Information about the budget was not available on the district’s website prior to the hearing, which did not sit well with many of those who were at the hearing.
Anderson said the money will be primarily used to support the construction of a new fire station and to provide a stipend for the 33 members of the Fire District. The stipend would range between $400 and $700 a month for members, with their cut depending on years or service and training. He said most members would receive about $600. The Fire District purchased a little more than 2 acres near S.R. 32 in Oakley to build a new station. It will cost at least $2 million.
“The two main purposes are for compensation and to build a new fire station,” Anderson said. “That is what it will be going for. That was our whole goal, but apparently we didn’t make that clear enough at the beginning. I know many people wanted to see a draft or a written plan, but we have goals and we have wants. Doesn’t mean they will happen.”
Community members encouraged the Fire District to be more transparent with the budget, as well as the district’s plans for allocating the additional revenue that will be collected. One of the reasons people favored a bond is because it would, they said, require accountability.
Larry Harward, who lives in Pine Mountain, said he would have preferred a bond over the tax rate increase.
“Taxes are forever and bonds are paid for when they are done,” he said in an interview.
The new rate falls in line with some of the other fire district rates in the area. The Fire District’s new rate will be reflected in the 2019 property tax bills, with the revenue streaming in toward the end of the year. Anderson said construction could likely begin on the station in 2019.
“The hearing went about how I had expected it,” he said. “I understand their frustrations. It’s always been our intention to keep everyone’s money in their pockets rather than in ours. We didn’t want to go through a continuous process of increasing the tax rate each year. Maybe we should have. But, we are at a turning point in our department. We couldn’t do it anymore on what we were getting. It’s just the way it goes.”
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