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Polk Fire No. 1 will go to voters this November

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Polk County Fire District No. 1 will ask voters to support a property tax increase to prevent cuts in service.

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Polk County Fire District No. 1 will ask voters to support a property tax increase to prevent cuts in service.

Polk No. 1 will wait, however, until the general election in November to place an operating levy before constituents of its 185-square-mile coverage area.

"It's not an ideal situation; we would love to not have to do this," said Jay Carey, board president. "At the same time, if we don't do something ... the alternative isn't acceptable, either.

"If we want to continue offering what we offer today, we need an operating levy."

Holding out until fall allows Polk No. 1 to avoid competition on the May ballot with the cities of Monmouth and Independence, both in the district's coverage area. The two towns have tax-raising measures slated for the primary election and there has been concern that a third levy proposal would divide voter support.

"Was it part of our consideration? Yes," Carey said. "Was it the main consideration? No.

"We're already into early February ... we need time to look at the amount we'll go after and to do community education," he continued. "We didn't feel we could throw something that quickly out there."

Polk No. 1 has wrangled a steady revenue decline since the expiration of a prior operating levy in 2010. The district needs a general fund balance of about $900,000 to pay for operations during the part of the fiscal year when it is waiting on property tax receipts.

Based on current expenses, the district will be down to $67,600 in carryover in two years, and could have a more than $400,000 deficit by 2015-16.

Polk No. 1 Fire Chief Jason Cane said he might be able to delay equipment purchases to pare down expenses, but those would be one-time moves only. The largest expense is in personnel and some of the district's staff was hired under a levy that no longer exists.

"We don't have a sustainable budget right now," Cane said, noting that a lack of new revenue could eventually force

additional employee reductions -- the district laid off its fire marshal in January.

The district has not yet set a desired levy rate and that may not happen for at least another month. Carey said, however, the levy would probably last five years and be enough to keep the district's 24/7 fire and emergency response services at their current level.

"A five-year levy ... would give us time to put together budgets that are, as best as we can tell, sustainable," he said.


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