For the first time in more than 40 years the Union Fire Protection District will be seeking a property tax increase.
Union Fire Chief Russ Hamilton said the district’s board recently voted to place a tax increase proposition on the November general election ballot. Hamilton said the district is in the process of filing the paperwork to officially seek the increase.
The fire district has not had an increase in property taxes since 1976 when the rate was set at the current 30 cents.
Hamilton said the board will be seeking a tax levy increase of no more than 61 cents.
“If approved, with the current property tax rollback the voters approved in 2010, the district would collect 43 of that 61 cents,” Hamilton said. “If retail begins to develop within the fire district, the money collected from the sales tax will continue to decrease the property tax.”
If approved, Hamilton said the district would like to hire six more firefighters. The money also would be used to pay for replacing aging equipment.
Reason for Request
Hamilton said the increase is needed for more revenue to address coverage issues.
The eastern part of Union has seen the development of the new Veterans Memorial Park, growth of industrial buildings, residential homes and senior living communities. Future growth is already being discussed and the Union R-XI School District is planning on building a new elementary school in the area.
The growth in the area has led to an increase in calls, which prompted the fire district to run a test this summer.
Instead of just staffing Station 1, located on Springfield Avenue, the district opted to also place firefighters at Station 3, located at Denmark Road and Progress Parkway.
Station 3 had been traditionally staffed by volunteers, but Hamilton said fire officials wondered if it needed a full-time crew to help with responses in the area.
In early June, the normal five-firefighter crew was split into two groups — one to Station 1 and the other to Station 3.
The test period ended in early August.
“The trial period was met with open arms from the community as we received a lot of positive feedback from the citizens both in responses and daily activities,” Hamilton said.
Cut Response Time
In the months of the trial, firefighters responded to 90 calls in the eastern area. By having crews ready to go at Station 3, Hamilton said the average response time was cut by four minutes.
Based on the test, Hamilton said fire officials felt it showed a need for more firefighters.
“The results of the trial period were discussed at the fire district’s board meeting on Aug. 15 and confirmed the need to staff fire Station 3 with full-time personnel on a permanent basis,” Hamilton said. “The board believes that the results of this study, in addition to the planned increase in housing and the addition of a school in the area, warrant those additional personnel.”
The only way to afford to pay for additional crews is to increase revenue from taxes, he said.
“The current sales tax funding will not support the needed personnel or replacement of fire equipment,” Hamilton said. “The sales tax approved by voters in 2010 did bring in revenue while at the same time rolling back the property tax. At the time retail in Union looked as if it was going to significantly grow, becoming the sole funding source for the fire district. To date the sales tax has leveled off reflecting the lack of retail development in the fire district.”
Hamilton said no major changes would be needed at Station 3 if crews are there full time. He said some amenities like a washing machine would need to be added, but he didn’t envision any major additions to the building at this time.