Mill Spring, Sunny View fire departments seek tax increase

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, June 11, 2009

Guy Greaves, with the Mill Spring Fire Department and a resident of Lake Adger, said the department has a deficiency due to not having a paid firefighter. He said the volunteers are wonderful, but it is difficult to get enough man power to a fire between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. because the volunteers have full-time jobs. He also said the change would help the department qualify for a better ISO rating, which makes homeowners&squo; insurance cheaper.

Local firefighter Ricky McFalls told commissioners they need to go with a growth adjusted tax rate (revenue neutral plus a percentage based on the annual average tax base growth since the last revaluation). He said no commissioner knows how tough it is to &dquo;get your butt kicked out there,&dquo; and have broken equipment with no money to fix it. He asked county chair Cindy Walker how many fire departments were near her house in the valley during a mountain fire recently.

&dquo;How many fire departments were up there breaking their necks to get to you,&dquo; McFalls said. &dquo;You can cut it if you want to but when you pick up the phone needing us, they may not get there.&dquo;

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Marty McGuinn, Sunny View Fire and Rescue Chief said he&squo;s aware it&squo;s a bad budget year, but there is a burden on the fire departments. &dquo;I don&squo;t know of a fire department that hasn&squo;t agonized and lost sleep over this budget,&dquo; McGuinn said.

He said there are a number of issues that affect a fire department&squo;s budget, including the cost of fuel and failing equipment. McGuinn also mentioned the state plan to eliminate the BRIDGE crew program, which trains young offenders to fight fires and uses them to assist with forest fires. &dquo;If the state doesn&squo;t fund this program, that means local fire departments will bear the brunt of that,&dquo; said McGuinn.

He also said the state may eliminate firefighter education funding next year, which would cost his department about $6,500 in required training just to continue offering medical. McGuinn added there are unknowns such as replacing equipment. He said his department this year had to replace a $15,000 pump that failed that wasn&squo;t budgeted.

McGuinn said he&squo;s not requesting a paid firefighter, but a tax rate of 8.75 cents. That would allow his department to lower its ISO rating, he said, and save someone with a $100,000 home about $40 per year overall between the higher tax rate and lower homeowners&squo; insurance rate.