Union Fire Chief Russ Hamilton is making his way around Union trying to inform voters about the fire district’s proposed property tax hike.
Proposition Fire will be on the ballot at the Nov. 6 election. The Union Fire Protection District is seeking a 31-cent tax increase of its property tax levy.
Hamilton has been visiting with different groups and organizations in an effort to explain the measure and answer questions. Last week he stopped by the city of Union and the Union School Board meetings.
Part of Hamilton’s visits have been to explain how the property tax increase works. Even he admitted it’s a little confusing.
The Union Fire Protection District has had a 30-cent tax levy since 1976. Proposition Fire is asking voters to increase that levy to 61 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The fire district also gets revenue from sales tax. Voters approved the sales tax in 2010.
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.
If Proposition Fire is approved, the levy would increase to 61 cents. However, with the sales tax rollback still in place, the district would only collect 43 cents on the 61-cent property tax levy.
At each meeting, Hamilton has stressed that if sales tax picks up, the property tax would roll back more.
Need for Proposition
Hamilton said the district is seeking the proposition to prepare for the fire district’s future.
When the sales tax was passed in 2010, Union was adding more commercial business, he said, and the fire district was told the sales tax was growing to the point where it could be the primary funding source.
In the last seven-plus years, Union has seen growth, but it’s mostly been residential and not commercial.
Hamilton said the amount of money generated from the sales tax and current property tax covers daily operations, but it impacts future planning.
For example, the fire district would like to replace some of its aging trucks. Hamilon 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 is about $200,000 more.
By having the sales tax and the property tax merely cover operations, he said, the district’s savings can’t cover large purchases.
The revenue generated from the passage of Proposition Fire also would allow the district to address the residential growth, Hamilton said.
While business hasn’t grown like the fire district thought, residential development has been booming.
Hamilton pointed to a number of developments in the area that have been built in the last few years or are being constructed now.
That growth 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 district wants 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 also wants to place firefighters at Station 3, located to the east at Denmark Road and Progress Parkway.
Station 3 had been traditionally staffed by volunteers, but Hamilton said fire officials think a full-time crew is needed to help with responses in the area.
A full-time crew also is needed in part because volunteers are harder to find, he added.
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.