Residents in the Washington Rural Fire Association are getting a pretty good deal, according to Washington city staff.
Jim Briggs, city administrator, and Brian Boehmer, assistant city administrator, gave a presentation to the council Monday about how the city’s fire department works with the rural fire association. Briggs said the residents who live outside of city limits, including those in the proposed annexation areas, get access to city assets, but don’t have to pay the city.
“People ask us in the annexations meetings, ‘Why should I vote for annexation?’ ” Briggs said. “‘What can you provide me?’ The reason we can’t provide anything more is we’re already giving it to them. They get everything.”
The presentation showed how the city’s fire department provides service to areas outside of city limits, however, the department is only funded through taxes paid by Washington residents.
Boehmer said Washington’s fire coverage area is broken down into nine sections. In eight of the nine sections, a Washington-based fire truck is tasked with responding to the scene first. The primary responsibility for the ninth area falls on House No. 5 in Krakow.
Rural fire residents pay $40 annually for protection. The money is used to buy equipment, however, Briggs said the city still has a stake in the equipment.
“We insure every piece of equipment,” Briggs said.
The city also covers workers’ compensation insurance. The city does not get any money from the rural association.
“We get zero fee from the rural association,” Boehmer said. “We get the benefit of the added tanker.”
Boehmer said the presentation was not an attack on the rural association.
“I don’t want to make this sound like we’re like picking on the rural association, but after going through all this stuff in the last five or six months, this has come to light,” Boehmer said. “We don’t want to make it sound like the rural association has done nothing. They have. They have purchased a pumper, a tanker, a brush truck, a utility truck amongst other things.”
In the last 25 years Washington has spent more than $10 million on fire-related assets, including equipment and buildings, Briggs said. Not counting the buildings or land, Briggs said the rural association has spent close to $1 million.
Briggs said the average home cost in the proposed annexation area is valued at $277,000. The average personal property value in the same area was placed at $20,000.
Briggs said the city could collect $358.79 in taxes from the homes at those values. Of that money, $110.97 per home would be added to the fire department.
“If we had that revenue stream, or part of it, we might have been able to give city staff a raise the last two years which we haven’t been able to,” Briggs said. “... Or we might be able to have something available where we reduce taxes.”
Without annexation, the nonresidents don’t have to pay the city to get fire protection.
“They’re getting it for free,” Briggs said. “Do you turn around and give it for free to all the citizens? Or does the person on Third Street subsidize the person on Pottery Road. That’s what we’re doing now.”
The fire savings was just one area where Briggs said nonresidents were getting a break. He said the landfill rates for residents and non-residents in the annexation areas are the same.
However, if the city gets fined for a violation at the landfill, the money comes from the city’s general fund and not from nonresidents.
Briggs said 15 years ago the city charged a rate and a half for non-residents.
“If someone wanted our services, they were paying a rate and half,” Briggs said. “Maybe that would entice them to support annexation.”
Mayor Sandy Lucy wondered if the rates or services needed to be adjusted.
“At what point are we going to have to adjust our city services?” Lucy said. “What happens if we can’t provide for them. The last thing we want to do is cut any services, and I’m not threatening that, but what happens?”