Columbus fire asks for 1-cent tax increase

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Town hall meetings begin April 3
The Columbus Fire Department is asking for a one-cent tax increase to fund three full-time positions.
Columbus Town Council approved supporting the increase at its meeting Thursday, March 22. The Polk County Board of Commissioners will make the final decision on fire department budgets.
Columbus Fire Chief Bobby Arledge said the increase would help fund three full-time positions that would staff the department 24 hours a day. He said Columbus is the busiest department in the county, with an average of 1,200 calls per year.
Arledge said during the day, response times aren’t bad, but after 5 p.m. response times get worrisome because volunteers must travel from their homes.
During a recent budget retreat, Arledge told council he would like to hire three full-time trained individuals who are currently working as volunteers. He suggested paying them salaries of $25,000 per year. The cost for the salaries would be an additional $93,863 to the budget, including FICA, Medicare, unemployment and insurance costs. The total budget with the property tax increase from 4 cents per $100 of valuation to 5 cents per $100 of valuation is proposed at $358,638.
Arledge, who is the only person who currently works full-time for the department, told council that a response to a cardiac arrest call at night once took 10 minutes. If someone had been in the department, Arledge said, the response time would have been 2 to 3 minutes.
He also stressed how important response times are to fires, since a fire doubles in size every 18 seconds.
Arledge also said for city residents a tax increase will be canceled out by a lower, better ISO rating, which will mean lower homeowner’s insurance costs. The Columbus Fire Department was rated a 7, but recently improved its rating to 6. Arledge said the new rating should mean a decrease of approximately 15 percent on insurance. For a home valued at $100,000, the savings would be about $90 per year.
A one-cent increase on taxes would be a $10 increase on a $100,000 home or a $20 increase on a $200,000 home, so even with a tax increase, residents inside city limits would see a savings because of the lower homeowner’s insurance, he said.
Arledge said he plans to obtain a better ISO rating for Columbus Township residents in the county this summer.
The fire department is planning town hall meetings for residents regarding the tax increase and the ISO rating and homeowner’s insurance changes.
The meetings will be held on April 3, April 16 and May 10 at 7 p.m. at Columbus Town Hall. Arledge said he scheduled the meetings on different days of the week in hopes that all residents have the opportunity to attend one of the meetings.
Town council gave unanimous approval to the tax increase, as did the Columbus Fire Department board of directors and the Columbus fire tax commission.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider fire budgets in May.