Fire district seeks voter support

INDEPENDENCE -- Polk County Fire District No. 1 will be asking Monmouth and Independence voters for new funds to maintain operations and services on the Nov. 5 ballot.At its August meeting, the board of directors for Polk County Fire District No. 1 voted to place the five-year measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, which would levy a 60 cents per $1,000 tax on assessed property.Since the district's 2005 levy that expired in 2010, Polk No. 1 has faced drastic budget cuts and rising costs that led to the laying off of Fire Marshal Jeff Donahue in January.If approved, the new levy would go toward hiring part-time staff and replacing certain equipment in an effort to provide more efficient service."It will increase taxes, which is hard for people who are on fixed incomes," Joost Vanderhave, Polk No. 1 board president, said. "We had not renewed the levy that expired three years ago, so taxes have come down some."Funds from the new levy wouldn't be available until November 2014, creating budgeting issues for the district.Polk No. 1 has already started cutting costs -- apparatus and equipment replacement and a freeze on hires -- to bridge the budget gap into next year.Payroll and equipment costs are the largest line items for Polk No. 1 and it is currently running as lean as possible, Neal Olson, operations and training chief, said.Those issues, paired with low volunteer availability, present problems for providing adequate service."With our career staff during business hours, we have five firefighter/paramedics available," Olson said. "We are currently staffing, essentially, seven fleet vehicles with five people."Monmouth and Independence voters will also have to decide on another public safety levy in November.The Polk County Board of Commissioners recently approved a levy for the November ballot, also tagged at 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property.With the already passed city bond measures, Monmouth and Independence residents would be hit with a $1.90 per $1,000 property tax increase if both the county's levy and the levy from Polk No. 1 are approved.The amount is well under the state's limit of $10 per $1,000 of real market value, but would be among the highest property tax rates residents in the area have seen in some time.Polk No. 1's board had mulled the levy for some time and voted to delay placing it on the May 21 ballot because of the city bond issues in Monmouth and Independence.However, timing the delay for November didn't exactly work in their favor when Polk County Commissioners voted to add their levy to the November ballot.Even with the inadvertent pairing of the two levies on the ballot, Polk No. 1 can't wait any longer, Fire Chief John Stein said."The amount of money available is not sustainable to maintain the staffing levels and replace equipment and apparatus," he said. "We're simply going to present the needs of the district to the voters and let them decide. No matter what the results are, we are going to continue to provide the best service possible."


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