Polk denies tax increases to Sunny View, Mill Spring fire departments

Published 5:29 pm Thursday, June 18, 2009

Keeping the tax rate the same would give the departments more than $100,000 in additional tax revenue because of increases in property values based on the county&39;s recent property revaluation. That additional $100,000 would be equivalent to about a two-cent tax increase at today&39;s property values.

The county is going with a revenue neutral budget next year, so no growth rates are factored in, which means that new structures and improvements the county would normally receive additional revenue from every year will not be counted next year.

Most speakers spoke highly of the work firefighters do and said the revenue is needed to obtain lower ISO ratings for lower homeowners&squo; insurance rates. Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson said without water and fire hydrants, he doesn&squo;t think the extra revenue or a paid firefighter would help lower the ISO ratings.

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Mill Spring was asking for the increase to add a paid firefighter. Sunny View said&bsp; while a paid firefighter would be nice, they weren&squo;t asking for a paid employee next year.

Whitson grilled the two fire chiefs with questions Monday and said Sunny View&39;s revenue has increased greatly over the past few years.

In 2007, Sunny View fire and rescue received $183,911, which was an increase of $63,000 from 2006, Whitson said. In 2008, Sunny View received $203,000, and this year revenues increased to about $257,000, Whitson said. The requested tax increase this year would have put the department at $369,000, according to Whitson.

&dquo;Those have been some huge increases in revenues over the years,&dquo; Whitson said.

Sunny View Fire Chief Marty McGuinn told Whitson that calling the request a two-cent increase in taxes is a a play on words. McGuinn said those increases over the years came from growth, which meant more property to protect and the extra revenue is needed to cover the new areas.

Other fire chiefs told commissiors they have no say in what Sunny View and Mill Spring fire departments receive, but asked that whatever commissioners decide they make it fair and equitable to all departments.

&dquo;We&squo;re looking for fairness across the playing field,&dquo; said Tryon Fire Chief Joey Davis.

Commissioner Warren Watson said he&squo;d like to see residents have lower ISO ratings, but in the meantime he&squo;d like to see a plan of how departments are going to get there. He said this year is a &dquo;double-whammy,&dquo; with a recession and a property revaluation. He said Sunny View and Mill Spring&squo;s request are not a crisis situation, but a growing concern that needs to be worked on and this year is just going to be hard to approve tax increases without a solid plan and community support.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he hopes the county is moving toward having paid firefighters at every station one day soon, but he is in favor of having the same tax rate for all departments across the board.