Why do we need a tax district?
The need for a special fire tax is two-fold, said York County Councilman Tom Smith.
"Our population level has gone up, and our donation level has pretty much flat-lined,"
he said of the main reason.
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Also, most volunteers are not local farmers or shift workers like they were decades ago, when there were more people working in the area during daylight hours.
"That's not quite the way it works these days," Smith said.
More buildings in the area mean more money to protect, said Bethel Volunteer Fire Department Chief Don Love, and about half of the $100,000 annual operating budget comes from community donations, with the other half coming from York County. Donations last year were down about $5,000 from the previous year, or about the same as what came in six or seven years ago, Love said.
Also, costs are on the rise. Last month, the department used $1,300 on fuel during a "slow month," Love said. The cost of diesel gas doubled in the past three years, he added, while recent findings from Insurance Safety Organization reports showed the department could use another $1.5 million in upgrades to properly service the area.
How would the money be used?
If a new fire tax district is approved by voters, it would allow the department to fund much if not all of its operating costs by collecting only a minimal amount of money from residents and businesses, Love said. Some of that money also could go to hiring paid staff to assist the department during daylight hours, with volunteers continuing their service nights, weekends and daytime when available.
The money could be used for all sorts of operational costs, but would require approval of the county and a special board made up just to approve funding requests. Four part-time positions could be included at about $32,000 each for daytime use.
Have firefighters tried anything else to raise money?
The department held several barbecue and other similar fundraisers in the past, but often only broke even, Love said. For the past three years, the department used an outside company to help raise money, and they generally send mailouts at least once a year, including one this month. Last year, the department sent out 9,200 mailouts, only receiving 750 card donations back.
"The average donation was about $40," said Capt. Chris Hybarger.
The department also tried selling discount cards, many of which members still have.
"We're about $700 in the hole right now," Love said.
Why support a new tax?
Factoring in a recent lowering of the department's ISO rating, the new fire tax could save residents and business owners on fire insurance costs if the new tax money could keep the ISO rating at its lower rate or lower it further, Love said.
On his own home, Love said the difference in insurance costs when the department lowered its ISO rating from 7 to 5 earlier this year was about $75 annually. The 2.3-2.5 mill tax on his home would be $9.40 annually.
"I'm putting money in my own pocket," Love said. "It's a no-brainer."
Average insurance savings with the lower rate range from 8 to 15 percent, Love said. Also, Hybarger added, the tax that would be placed on the community for an all-paid unit would be hundreds of dollars a year, so keeping the community volunteers is a big money-saver.
Love said both the area and volunteers would be safer given the department could provide newer and better equipment. In May, the department bought a new truck that was a 1988 model, one that was being retired from another department.
"These guys are pretty spendthrift," Smith said. "They're penny pinchers. Now, the timing of this, it's probably the worst ever [given the current economy]."
Within three years, the department will need to begin the process of purchasing a new ladder truck that could cost as much as twice the $400,000 the county is scheduled to provide.
"The county supports us well," Love said. "We can't kick the county."