Fire Board Raises Tax Rate To Hire Full-Time Staff

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The April 13 fire board meeting brought out a lot of opposition to the raising of the district taxes. Not many of the residents are for the proposed budget to raise the tax rate from $2.02 to $2.30.

The Christopher Kohl’s Fire District Board approved a budget for publication at the April meeting that raises your property tax. The formal approval of the coming year’s budget will probably occur at the June meeting.

The tax rate for the proposed budget will be approximately $2.30, being raised from $2.02 per household of secondary assessed value. It is about a 14-percent increase. This is in addition to any increase in your property value that has been imposed by Gila County.

Jim Oliver supports this proposed budget, even with the increased tax rate. Jim said that the increase would allow the fire department to employ three additional firefighters, who will also be paramedics. There is presently one firefighter/EMT on duty 24 hours a day. With the approval of this budget, there will be two persons, both firefighters, one an EMT, one a paramedic on duty around the clock. Full-time advanced life support (ALS) will be a reality in the district for the first time.

The reason that paramedics were not hired to start with is simple according to Jim. He said paramedics cost more, equipment, etc., costs more, and the budget adopted last year did not have the funds available. Jim stated that the chief did her best with the funds available to her.

Why do we have to hire people instead of using just volunteers to man the department? Jim says the answer is simple, though the reasons are many and complex. They are not getting getting volunteers. Jim says the days of residents getting together and pumping water on fires has passed.

The only one against the tax increase was fire board president Debbie Dawson. I called Debbie and asked her why she voted against the increase.

Debbie said she wanted to move slowly and take baby steps with the economy the way it is, it is not good to give raises when people are letting employees go. She stated that the department has done so much in the past years, and she does not want to see a paid fire department.

She says it is a wise choice for one paramedic and if they are doing great, put another one on and move slowly. Debbie also had a concern for the numerous residents in the district that are on a limited income.

Margo Holmes, vice chairman, voted for the tax increase. She felt at the meeting that the department needed additional personnel. Debbie stated the staff all received a raise in December. The chief said that brought them up to $9.69 an hour, and Debbie said that was $30,000 a year. Margo Holmes gave the proposed salaries and said they were below poverty level at the meeting.

Many residents are upset over that for years they were a volunteer department where residents dedicated a lot of time to that department for no money at all.

In the approved budget for the April 13 meeting according to Debbie, the chief in 2007/08 was making $53,318. With the new budget it is $62,000. Maintenance personnel in 2007/08 were making $36,000, in the new budget it is $40,000. The budget for three firefighters is $99,500, and budgeted for three paramedics is $109,500.

Many are saying this is the highest tax increase they have ever had. Those of you who are concerned, remember, nothing is written in stone. Attend the next board meeting in May and the budget meeting and voice your concerns. Call all board members and voice your opinion.

You can reach president, Debbie Dawson at (928) 478-0788; vice chairperson, Margo Holmes at (928) 478-4772; and treasurer, Jim Oliver at (928) 478-4210.

Someone approached me about last week’s column and said it sounded like I thought that our department did not have qualified personnel.

So, I would like to explain that my column is not necessarily my opinion on the matters. That particular statement came from someone else saying that with that tax increase they might as well bite the bullet and go with Hellsgate, and they would get qualified personnel, meaning more paramedics and EMTs, etc.

Sorry if it came out wrong, but let me assure you, those of you who have known me for over 17 years, know that I have the highest regard for our fire department and its personnel, or, for that matter, anyone involved in any fire department who dedicates their time to saving lives and structures.

Birthdays

Bobby Jones will be adding another candle to his cake April 27, Susan Keown will be celebrating April 28, and Dale Ashby will be adding another candle to his cake April 29. Wishing all of you a happy birthday.

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