Henry County fire departments operate on budgets based on the price of equipment from seven years ago.
Fire department officials from each county station met with magistrates Saturday in an effort to strategize a way to increase deed feeds and maintain compliance with safety regulations.
“I guess from my point of view we need more money,” said Scott Bates, magistrate for District 1. “I honestly don’t know how we can sell a tax increase during these tough times. Everyone is scraping by.”
Henry County fire departments receive $35 in deed fees from residential property owners and $100 from commercial residences. According to firefighters, safety and compliance standards make an increase a necessity.
“We’re looking at maximum of a $4 a month increase for a year of fire protection,” Eminence Fire Chief Gary Lucas said. “We spend a large portion of our budget on maintenance of equipment and that’s not counting the increase in equipment costs.”
The cost of equipment county firefighters use has increased on an average of 238 percent over six years. Items every firefighter needs like boots costs $218 in 2006 increased to $472 in 2012. A self-contained breathing apparatus in 2006 cost $1,283 and increased 350 percent in 2012 with a price tag of $4,500.
“We retired a truck that was 11 years old,” said David Noe, Campbellsburg Fire Department chief. “Is it going to take someone getting hurt when their air pack fails in a 1,500-degree room for us to upgrade our equipment?”
Fire department officials commented several times on the appreciation of support from their residents, but most agreed an increase in deed fees must happen or they can’t sustain their personnel with proper equipment and remain compliant.
“Everything has gone up and we can barely afford the prices to outfit one firefighter,” said Lorry Hansen, Assistant New Castle Fire Chief.
The proposed increase to $50 per property owner and $125 per commercial would help the smaller fire departments. The Kentucky River Fire Department would see an increase in annual fees from $23,705 to $33,775. District 3 Magistrate David Brown said he is not opposed to the increase, but how to implement the new increase.
“There are elderly people out in our county who live on barely $700,” Brown said. “I can’t increase their fees. Ten dollars or a $15 increase could mean the difference of whether they have a enough gas money to make it to the grocery store or not. I think the way to do it is by property. There are some people who own three farms paying the same $35 amount as the little guy. I wouldn’t have to pay the same auto tax on a truck as someone who owns a $30,000 truck.”
Brown stressed he would be in favor of a deed increase based on the percentage rate for those who own more property.
“We were elected by the public to make decisions and I am in favor of putting it on as a percentage,” Brown said “I don’t want to raise it in such a way that everyone has to pay more.”
Kentucky River Fire Department Chief Billy Rearden cautioned that he could lose money.
“I don’t draw off of city residents like Eminence and Campbellsburg or like (Lake Jericho Fire Department Chief) Guy (Coombs), who has homes for deed fees,” Rearden said. “I have properties in my area with run-down trailers.”
Rearden’s department annually brings in $7,545 less than the Lake Jericho Fire Department, and $51,445 less than the Campbellsburg Fire Department, which has 3 stations.
“I don’t know how we will do it, but it is obviously a matter of safety,” said Bates. “We have to look at all possibilities.”
Several fire chiefs mentioned property owners could receive better ISO ratings, ratings for insurance purposes based on the quality of fire department services in an area, which would translate to less dollars on their coverage. Bates warned that it is not always the case.
“I checked with two different insurance companies that I know to make sure we know what we are doing,” Bates said. “Some don’t give a discounted rate based on the ISO rating.”
In the past, insurance companies calculated insurance rates based on a public protection classification, PPC in concert with ISO ratings, but most insurance companies use a subzone rating factor system, which involves looking at fire, flood, and weather damage in a given zip code.
“I want to do the best I can for our county as a magistrate and a Christian,” said Bates. “Anyone is more than welcome to email me their concerns. I may not respond to each one, but I promise to personally read each of them.”
Contact Scott Bates at email@example.com.