The first public hearing on a proposed $4.6 million Emergency Services District No. 2 budget finished with no public comment.
The budget proposes maintaining last year’s property tax rate of 8.4648 cents per $100 valuation and will raise around $100,000 in additional revenue due to increased tax roll values. Last year’s budget raised $4,510,510 in revenues.
The district includes 11 rural fire departments including Arp, Bullard, Chapel Hill, Dixie, Flint-Gresham, Jackson Heights, Noonday, Red Springs, Troup, Whitehouse and Winona, and covers almost 900 square miles with 33 paid firefighters and more than 300 volunteers who man 17 stations and substations across the county.
The effective rate, the rate that would generate the same amount of revenue as last year, is 8.3150 cents per $100 valuation.
Board President Randy Melton said the budget “met the minimum” for the 11 departments and the district to operate. He said department requests were whittled, including deferring equipment purchases and adding personnel, to within the current property tax rate.
“Obviously we want to make sure each department is fully funded with what they need,” he said. “There were more requests for equipment, bunker gear and equipment for trucks but Terry (Rozell, the district’s chief of operations) knows what will get by another year.”
The 2015 budget includes $907,000 to pay loan principals; $406,000 to pay contractual fees, such as appraisal district fees, paging service and a tower lease; $352,616 for new equipment and gear, such as hoses, radio batteries and self contained breathing apparatus; $207,093 for truck repairs; a $200,000 fire engine for Noonday; $167,860 for administration payroll; $164,000 for insurance.
Board member Robert Dear was critical of the budget. He questioned allowing the revenue increase by more than $100,000 when a reserve of around $1.5 million would be available. He also remains critical of the board’s inaction regarding fire departments going into Cherokee County.
Board member Bill Bellenfant said the primary reason there is consensus to maintain the tax rate is to pay outstanding debt.
He said the district is three years and $3 million from paying off debt accrued when the district made significant capital purchases, including fire stations and fire trucks, in the first few years of the district.
A second public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8 at the same location.
Public comment is allowed.
The property tax rate and budget are expected to be approved during a Sept. 22 meeting.