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Polk Fire District seeks operating levy

INDEPENDENCE -- The Nov. 5 special election has some far-reaching public safety implications for Monmouth and Independence residents.

October 23, 2013

INDEPENDENCE -- The Nov. 5 special election has some far-reaching public safety implications for Monmouth and Independence residents.

On top of the four-year Polk County public safety levy, Measure 27-109, (see related story on page 1A), a five-year operating levy, Measure 27-110, from Polk County Fire District No. 1 awaits voters on their recently mailed out ballots.

With the 2010 expiration of the last levy from Polk Fire No. 1, costs for equipment, apparatus and payroll have shot up, with no extra funding coming in.

"We have cut out our apparatus replacement fund, we haven't put any additional money into it," said Neal Olson, training and operations division chief. "We've kind of let our reserve -- our carry over -- dwindle over the last few years. We've been operating in a deficit the last several years."

Both the county and fire levies ask for a 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value property tax increase.

With the police bond measure passed in May and taking effect when the library bond expires, this equates to a $1.71 per $1,000 increase to Monmouth residents' property tax rates, if both measures pass.

Independence residents would see a $2.52 per $1,000 tax rate increase if both measure pass.

The still in effect library bond and the debt refinancing bond passed in May make up more than half, $1.32, of the new rate.

The previous levy from Polk Fire No. 1 weighed in at 77 cents per $1,000 with the idea that it could diminish over time.

The new levy, however, will remain at a flat 60 cents over the five year span, bringing the district at least $648,000 each year.

"Sixty cents right now will keep us where we are," Olson said. "We'll add some new folks, but that doesn't really bring anything else up."

With the passing of the levy, Polk Fire No. 1 would be able to bring in extra part-time personnel and make much needed repairs on an out-of-service fire engine.

Funding from the levy won't come to the district until November 2014.

In the mean time, administrators have set aside one-third of their budget -- roughly $300,000 -- to carry over until the new funding would kick in.

This operating levy is the third time Polk Fire No. 1 has come to the voters since Olson came on board in 1997.

"As a citizen, for me to pay more to maintain services or improve services, I'm willing to do that," Olson said. "It doesn't bother me. I understand not wanting to pay more taxes but people need to realize that without adequate funding, there are services that are naturally going to decline."

With all of the things the levy will do for Polk Fire No. 1, the one thing it won't do is give a raise for full-time staff because of the current union contract.

Olson and other firefighters at Polk Fire No. 1 have seen little opposition so far to the levy, unlike the 2005 measure.

The more negative response then was due to lack of information and education on the district's part, Olson said.

Aside from funding issues, one of the looming problems at Polk Fire No. 1 is the low volunteer response during the day.

That is something Olson hopes to mitigate with the passing of the levy.

"We're looking at ways to fund and augment that daytime response," Olson said. "Our apparatus do no good if we have nobody to get on them. That's why staffing is the most important."

Measure 27-110

What: Polk County Fire District No. 1 operating levy

Cost: The levy will excise a 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for five years.

Does this affect me: Polk Fire No. 1 covers 185 square miles in southeast Polk County and Western Marion County. Monmouth, Independence, Buena Vista, Suver, Airlie and Pedee residents comprise the cities and communities served by Polk Fire No. 1.

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