Residents in Basin City are being asked to support their volunteer firefighters by approving a property tax levy increase.
Franklin Fire District 4 officials say the tax measure is needed to help balance the annual operating budget and build back reserves drained in recent years as safety, training and equipment were upgraded.
"This is to bring us into compliance for what the state requires of a fire department," said Jim Klaustermeyer, the fire district's chairman. "We had that accident in 2010 and that's kind of when I realized that good intentions, as far as the state's concerned, are not enough for our fire district.
"We had to really step up the training and providing the personal protection equipment for firefighters and it really increased the costs ... for our district," he said.
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In 2010, then-Fire Chief Chet Bauermeister was killed while helping battle a brush fire in Adams County. Bauermeister, 46, died when the ATV he was on flipped and rolled about a 100 feet down a steep slope.
After the state Department of Labor & Industries investigated the line-of-duty death, fire district officials had to make some procedural and protocol changes to comply with L&I's findings.
"When I took over, we got really educated after that accident on where we are, what we have and what we should have," said Chief Steve Cooper. "Chet was a really good man and did a really good job, but we just found out how bad of shape our fire district is in."
Officials began updating the safety gear and equipment and investing in more training for firefighters in the volunteer district.
The annual budget runs about $125,000, Cooper said, and they've pulled about $25,000 every year out of reserves to cover the shortfall from property taxes.
The fire district currently charges residents 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $35 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
The new amount officials are hoping residents will support is 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which should generate an estimated $188,000.
"That's the number we came up with where we could adequately cover our expenses," Cooper said. "Yes it's going to double it, but ... it should have been increased a long time ago to keep up with the times and expenses."
The six-year property tax levy is on the Nov. 6 ballot. It requires a 60 percent, supermajority approval.
Cooper admits that telling people that their property taxes will double is not what people like to hear, but he explained that right now residents are paying so little for the fire service that doubling it still won't cost too much.
The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $70 a year with the new levy, or less than $6 a month.
"It's not a lot of money," the chief said.
Fire district officials also looked at other fire district levies in the area to get a comparison and found that Fire District 4, which covers 180 square miles, was collecting far less than comparable agencies in Franklin, Grant and Adams counties.
"We researched this quite a bit. We don't want to over-charge our taxpayers," Cooper said. "We're still probably going to be a touch under the area (comparables)."
Klaustermeyer said the levy amount they picked is what is needed to run the fire district safely. It'll also help them put a long-term plan in place to begin updating aging fire trucks and allows them to build up some reserves.
Fire District 4 has three fire stations and 11 fire trucks, some dating back to 1972. The newest rig is from 2006.
"The folks I've visited with seem to be behind it and understand that we've probably been a little behind," Klaustermeyer said.