Two S.D. Departments Seek Taxing Authority

Aug. 28--Two volunteer fire departments are seeking taxing authority to better fund their operations.

Firefighters in Frederick have gathered the necessary signatures to put the issue on the ballot. A vote is scheduled for Oct. 16.

The Columbia department is in the process of collecting the necessary 137 signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot, said Corey Mitchell, the department's fire chief.

Right now, he said, the department operates on $17,000 a year in contributions from surrounding townships and the towns of Columbia and Westport, plus whatever grants it can procure. But while the state is still issuing grants to volunteer departments, federal grants are starting to dry up, he said.

"We kind of want to get this wrapped up this winter before the new year," Mitchell said of collecting the signatures and scheduling a vote.

It costs about $25,000 to outfit a firefighter, he said. And the $17,000 from Columbia, Westport and the townships isn't enough to buy much new equipment, let alone a new truck.

Mitchell said the department's main truck is a 1989 model.

Having taxing authority would help the department upgrade its truck, take care of the fire hall and get new equipment without going overboard, he said. But he understands the rub.

"It's a tax, there's no way around it," he said. "At least it's local. It's just kind of a necessary evil, unfortunately. You talk about raising people's taxes, and it's a touchy thing."

He doesn't folks to be caught off guard about what's happening, so he has sent out a flyer and is willing to answer questions.

One that's still unanswered, though, is how much the department would tax if the district is approved. There have been discussions, but no decision has been made, Mitchell said.

Ultimately, if the district is approved, a board will be set up and have control over the amount that will be assessed. That's how the process works under state law.

Officials from the Frederick volunteer fire department could not be reached for comment.

In recent years, Groton and Hecla have established fire districts with taxing authority. Voters in the Warner area defeated a push to create a fire district.

All registered voters within the proposed boundaries of a fire district are eligible to vote on the creation of the district if enough signatures are gathered to move the issue to the ballot.

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