Saluda shuffles budget to find funds for fire department

Published 6:15 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden announced Monday, May 14 the city would adjust tax rates to accommodate additional revenues for the fire department without actually increasing taxes.
“I know I’ve said this before but we’ve got a great [fire] department. We’ve got some EMTs, for example, that I’d rather work on me than most doctors. These guys work hard and they’re going to need the funding,” Baisden said.
Saluda Finance Officer Ron Cole said what commissioners will do is lower the city tax rate from 55 to 54 cents per $100,000 valuation and increase the fire tax from 5.5 to 6.5 cents for any Saluda resident living in Polk County.
Cole said the one-cent increase at a 98 percent collection rate amounts to an additional $9,300 allocation for the fire department.
“We had previously projected to have $17,000 for our contingency fund and so we will take the $9,000 out of that fund. I think the board feels comfortable with that decision,” Cole said. “Hopefully we’ll have another mild winter like this year and not need the contingency monies.”
Saluda is currently renegotiating the fire department’s contract, which previously stated it would be one cent less than the Polk County rate. Cole said the city plans to do away with that agreement and leave it to the Saluda Board of Commissioners to determine the fire tax rate aside from the county rate.
Saluda last increased its fire tax from 6 to 8 cents in 2002. In budget year 2010, the reevaluation of property values dropped the Saluda fire tax to 5.5 cents because the Henderson County tax dropped from 8 cents to 6.5 cents. The Saluda tax rate contract currently calls for the town’s rate to be one cent lower than the county’s rate. For budget year 2012 it increased from 6.5 to 7.5 in Henderson County, but remained 5.5 in Polk. The department worked with a total budget of $309,000 this year, with about $52,000 coming from Saluda’s 5.5 percent tax rate and the rest from Polk and Henderson counties.
Saluda Fire Chief Shane Bradley originally requested a fire tax increase April 9. He said he’s pleased with the commission’s decision.
“We’re real glad the city is working with us to help us come up with the extra funds. We just want to make sure we are able to provide the same level of service that we provide now,” Bradley said.
With the 2013 budget year, Saluda Fire will no longer receive assistance from a 2008 FEMA SAFER (Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant that has helped fund at least a portion of the salaries for two full-time employees over the last five years.
Currently, three full-time 24-hour shift firefighters run the department with the help of approximately 35 volunteers.
The department, Bradley said, also maintains a dive team and a swift water rescue team, as well as high-angle certification for steep rescues near areas such as Big Bradley Falls.
In May 2011 the department went through a N.C. Department of Insurance ratings test. While official results have not returned, Saluda did verbally hear from the department that it was able to improve its ISO rating from 7 to 5.

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