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Polk Fire No. 1 latest talking bond request

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Residents of Monmouth and Independence could be voting on two property-tax increasing bond measures in May.

December 26, 2012

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Residents of Monmouth and Independence could be voting on two property-tax increasing bond measures in May.

Projected revenue shortfalls have prompted officials of Polk County Fire District No. 1 to mull placing an operating levy before citizens during the primary election.

Polk No. 1 spans Monmouth and Independence. Both cities have recently announced their own separate bond measures: Monmouth is trying to pass a bond to buy and convert a property off Highway 99W into a new police station; Independence is seeking approval of a general obligation bond to avoid layoffs.

Three bonds. Two adjacent cities. One ballot.

"One of the main decision points to move forward ... was that we wouldn't be competing with other money measures," Monmouth Police Chief Darrell Tallan told Polk No. 1's board of directors during a meeting last week.

Tallan said Monmouth staff had been told by Fire Chief Jason Cane in the past few months that the district had not discussed targeting a levy for May 2013.

"If Polk No. 1 was to place this on the ballot, it would significantly reduce the chances of one or both of us passing a bond levy," Tallan said.

Polk No. 1 is trying to guard against a major revenue shortfall by 2014-15. The district needs a general fund balance of about $900,000 to pay for operations during the part of the fiscal year when it's waiting on property tax receipts.

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, according to rough estimates.

An issue is that Polk No. 1 added five employees under a previous operating levy that expired in 2010, Cane said. The district will eliminate its fire marshal position on Jan. 11.

At Polk No. 1's Dec. 18 meeting, a board committee recommended keeping the current level of full-time employees and exploring an operating levy rate that would sustain that number.

Board president Jay Carey also asked for an analysis to determine a rate and whether a levy could be pushed back to November or later, though the answer might not come until January.

Jay Carey

Jay Carey

"If that's the case, I don't see how we'll be able to go out for a bond in May," Carey said. "We haven't prepared for a levy.

"When we go out, we want to make sure we're taking something viable to the citizens of Polk No. 1 and that they understand what we're doing and why we're doing it."

If Polk No. 1 proceeds, Independence and Monmouth residents would vote on that levy, and the measures proposed by their respective city.

Monmouth Mayor John Oberst and Independence City Manager David Clyne were both at the meeting. Multiple revenue measures on one ballot will make citizen support more difficult, Oberst said.

"We've had a longstanding positive relationship between the overlapping governments here," Oberst added. "My biggest concern long term ... is that this could really be a hit to that relationship."

Clyne said that if the district moved forward, Independence would support the measure. He did note, however, that Independence was seeking a municipal bond -- which works like a mortgage -- instead of an operating levy to avoid direct competition.

"If both of us were going out for an operating levy and they don't pass, neither of us would get what we were asking for," he said.