Union Fire -- stock

Voters in the Union Fire Protection District supported a property tax levy increase in Tuesday’s election.

Proposition Fire passed with 4,589 (57.94) votes in favor of the increase. A total of 3,331 votes (42.06 percent) were cast against the proposition.

The approval means a 31-cent increase to the district’s property tax levy. It’s the first increase of the levy since 1976.

The new levy is set at 61 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That, however, is not how much will be collected, according to fire district officials.

When informing voters about the tax, Union Fire Chief Russ Hamilton’s largest hurdle was explaining the complicated nature of the district’s revenue streams.

The district’s primary funding came from property tax collection until 2010. That year voters approved a sales tax for the district. When the sales tax was passed, the district was forced to roll back its property tax by at least half.

Since the rollback has been in effect, the district has only been collecting 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation — not the full 30 cents, Hamilton said. He told voters that with the sales tax rollback still in place, the district would only collect 43 cents on the 61-cent property tax levy if Proposition Fire passed.

Increased Funds

The tax increase was pitched to voters as something needed to help keep up with a growing district.

Hamilton said the district has seen residential growth, but not commercial growth. By not having commercial growth, the revenue generated from the two taxes covered daily operations, but impacted future planning.

For example, the fire district would like to replace some of its aging trucks. Hamilton said the average age of the district’s main apparatus trucks is 16. A 20-year-old truck is considered old.

Hamilton said the district purchased a pumper truck in 2014 for $525,000. Four years later, he said the same truck costs about $200,000 more.

With the passage of Proposition Fire, the district should have more funding to replace the aging equipment.

The additional revenue also will help provide better coverage, Hamilton said.

Union has seen a population boom that has led to an increase in calls. In 2008, the district ran around 900 calls, he said. Last year that number jumped to close to 1,500.

To help with the increase in calls, and provide coverage for the growing area, Hamilton said the tax increase should enable the district to add staffing to the eastern side of the city.

Instead of just staffing Station 1, located on Springfield Avenue on the west side of Union, the district wants to place firefighters at Station 3, located to the east at Denmark Road and Progress Parkway.

This summer, the fire district did a trial run of staffing both houses. Hamilton said the trial got positive feedback from the community and cut response time to calls in the eastern area by about four minutes.

With more development coming, like the new Union R-XI elementary school near East Central College, the fire district feels the time is right to add more staffing to the area.