Franklin Fire District 4 is asking voters to approve a tax levy in Tuesday's general election to help replace old firetrucks and equipment, officials said.
The district has proposed a tax measure to collect 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax would be a 29-cent rate increase from what residents currently pay. The measure needs a simple majority to pass.
The 33 cents-per-$1,000 of assessed property value the district currently collects is the lowest rate among fire districts in Franklin County, said Jim Klaustermeyer, board chair commissioner for the district.
If the tax is not approved by voters, it will be a hard for the district to maintain the service level it provides, Klaustermeyer said.
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"If we are not going to pass the levy, we are going to have to make some difficult decisions," he said. "As the cost of fire protection has gone up, we have found the taxes we collect are not keeping up. We are eating into our reserve fund every year."
The tax increase would mean a citizen in the district with a $150,000 home would pay $43.50 more annually for the levy, Klaustermeyer said. The district unsuccessfully tried to pass a 35 cent-per-$1,000 tax rate increase last year 2012.
"We went back, re-sharpened our pencils and figured out what the minimum would be to do our long-term capital improvements," Klaustermeyer said. "We knocked it down to this value."
The money would help the district replace pumper truckers, including one that is more than 30 years old and one that is more than 40 years old, Chief Steve Cooper said. The district also would like to make improvements to its fire stations and replace outdated gear.
The district's annual operating budget this year is $125,000, Cooper said. The district has had to pull out around $25,000 from its reserve fund each year to cover a continuing shortfall from property taxes.
The district covers 180 square miles, including Basin City, and has 23 volunteer firefighters, Cooper said. Firefighters responded to 43 fire calls last year and spent more than 1,000 hours on service calls.
There will be a big hole in the district's fleet of firetrucks if the tax isn't approved and officials are forced to retire the older trucks, Cooper said. The chief is hopeful residents in the district will trust him when he says the department truly needs the money to maintain its current level of service.
"I know how people are. I am the same way. 'More taxes? No,' " Cooper said. "We just want to provide fire service at the same level we are producing now. The way the money is right now it is just impossible. I don't think we are asking for anything crazy."