Polk No. 1 board considers renewing levy

Polk Fire No. 1’s ladder truck will be hard to replace under current tax rates.

Photo by Emily Mentzer
Polk Fire No. 1’s ladder truck will be hard to replace under current tax rates.

INDEPENDENCE — The Polk County Fire District No. 1’s board of directors held a workshop on Jan. 26 to discuss levy options for the district.

“Basically what it came down to is we have three primary things we need to be doing that we can’t do with our permanent tax rate and ambulance revenue combined,” Chief Ben Stange said.

The district’s permanent tax rate is $1.5038. Since voters approved a bond and operating levy in May 2014, the total tax rate has increased to $1.8338, with 19 cents from the levy and 14 cents from the bond.

The levy is set to end in the 2019-20 fiscal year, and Stange said the district needs to make plans now to either have it expire, to ask voters to re-approve it, or to ask voters to consider paying more for an operation levy.

Stange said the three things he sees a need for include hiring a fourth firefighter-paramedic per shift, hiring a part-time fire marshal, and contributing to the equipment replacement fund.

“Currently we have three (firefighter-paramedics) during the nights,” Stange said. “That has to be supplemented by residents and volunteers and things like that, so it’s not as guaranteed a response as we need to be able to provide, especially with our call volume going up by 12 percent in the last year and 42 percent over the last five years.”

The district’s full-time fire marshal was laid off in 2012. Since then, day shift firefighters have taken on the duties of routine fire inspections while Stange has tried to attend planning and development meetings. But the district needs a dedicated person at those kinds of meetings, Stange said.

“We need to make sure that developments aren’t going in that the fire district can’t access and can’t serve,” he said. A dedicated, part-time fire marshal would be able to represent the district at community development meetings in Monmouth and Independence, Stange added.

Fire engines cost a lot of money, Stange said.

“We need to at least save up,” he said. “We don’t want to end up saying, ‘Where are we going to get $400,000 from this year?’ That’s not a realistic way to run things.”

He presented the board with those three levy options and the three needs at the workshop on Jan. 26.

“What I got from them is they understand there is a need to continue this current (levy) rate, but they are not interested in increasing it at all to the taxpayers, so what can we do about that,” Stange said.

If the board decides to let the levy run out, Stange said it would result in some cuts. If the board agrees to ask for the 19 cents that taxpayers are paying now, the equipment replacement fund would have to be reworked, namely, the replacement of the ladder truck, which is the most expensive piece of equipment the district owns and is failing.

If the board asked taxpayers to increase payments to 28 cents, the district could meet all the needs.

Stange said he does not get the impression that the board wants to let the levy run out.

“The majority of them see the need as so important that they’re willing to go to the voters to continue the current rate (of 19 cents),” Stange said. “I don’t think they expected to be saying that, probably. They can’t bring themselves to ask people to pay for more, to increase taxes.”

The board took up the topic again at the Tuesday board meeting after press time.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.