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Tax increase would benefit rural Cole County fire district

Tax increase would benefit rural Cole County fire district

October 21st, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Officials with the Cole County Fire Protection District hope positive feedback they've heard at recent town hall meetings translates into approval of a 27-cent property tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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The district is one of five rural fire districts operating in Cole County. The others — Regional West, Russellville-Lohman, Osage and California Rural — would not be affected by the proposed tax change.

The Cole County district covers about 220 square miles in Cole, Miller and Osage counties. The district serves 2,500 residents in the county, including the communities of Eugene, Henley, Marys Home and St. Thomas.

Property tax revenue is the district's sole funding source, currently operating on a rate of 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The increase would bring the tax to 57 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The Committee For Better Fire Protection, a private group allowed to use the district's information for this campaign, has held two town hall meetings, with a third planned, to answer residents' question about the proposed tax increase.

"We held our first meetings in the outlying areas in Miller and Osage counties because we don't have as many residents in that part of the district," said committee member David DeWitt, who has lived in the district since 1983 when it was a volunteer fire department. "Most of the questions, obviously, were about why are we going from the the current 30 cents for each $100 of assessed property value to 57 cents. The answer is maintaining the current fleet of 28 trucks and maintaining the seven fire stations in the district has risen substantially."

The campaign committee had $415 on hand at the end of the July 1 through Sept. 30 reporting period, according to reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. The group received $2,741.25 and spent $2,326.25 during that time, receiving 12 contributions of $100 or more.

The Cole County Fire Protection District formed in 1993 and hasn't seen a tax increase since that time 25 years ago.

"Pumper trucks, which is the mainstay of a fire department, have gone from a cost of $250,000 to over $450,000," he said. "The other truck important to each station are tankers and have risen in cost from $120,000 to $220,000."

Of the 28 trucks in the fire district's fleet, 18 are 10 years or older, which means an increase in maintenance and dependability issues — something a fire district can't afford, DeWitt said.

"When you think about what the trucks' cost, you have to plan for those expenditures," DeWitt said. "You just can't buy one of those every year. The district has done lease purchasing over the last few years to get better equipment, but it's now to a point that without additional revenue the district won't be able to replace equipment on a timely schedule."

The fire district has made some upgrades in recent years. In 2014, the district purchased two new pumper trucks for $396,000 using property tax money. In 2009, the district added six fire trucks in 2009, costing $500,000, as part of a seven-year program with Jefferson Bank to lease the equipment.

The district opened its current station in Brazito in 2003 at a cost of $350,000 and, in 2004, opened its current station in Eugene at a cost of $165,000.

DeWitt said he never has had to call on the fire department, and that tends to make a person take the fire department for granted.

"The guys have done a good job and need our support," he said. "We want our firefighters to be safe."

The final town hall meeting to discuss the proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Disabled American Veterans Hall at 5054 Monticello Road just south of Jefferson City. Members of the campaign committee and the district's board of directors will be present to answer questions.