Exeter firefighters pursue fire district

Friday, February 2, 2007

Voters in the Exeter Special Road District will have an opportunity to vote on the formation of a tax-based fire protection district on April 3.

"We depend on membership dues, donations, fundraisers and the barbecue to fund the department," said Jim Matthew, Exeter Fire Department chief. "It gets harder each year to sustain the department on those funds."

The tax-based fire protection district will be funded by a 30-cent property tax, which means residents in the Exeter Road District will be charged 30 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

If the proposed fire protection district issue passes, the tax support would spread district costs among all Exeter residents and eliminate the current membership system.

"The tax district would make it an even playing field where everyone pays for fire protection," said Matthew. "Right now, the members are in the minority."

If approved, the fire protection tax will provide the Exeter Fire Department with around $40,000 per year. The department currently receives around $7,000 in membership dues annually.

The department requires an additional $8,000 to $13,000 in order to pay insurance costs, building payments and maintenance and repair costs. Those funds are generated through fundraisers and donations.

Although fundraisers would not be necessary if the tax issue passes, the fire department would still host the annual community barbecue. Funds raised during the barbecue could then be used for special projects and purchases.

"We need a new 2,500-gallon tanker truck, which will cost us around $12,000," said Matthew. "If the tax district passes, we will also purchase other equipment and participate in more training opportunities in order to offer our tax payers better services."

The Exeter Volunteer Fire Department has an ISO rating of 8, but after Exeter's new water system is in place, Matthew will work to lower the ISO rating, which will in turn lower homeowner insurance costs. The department will look at the possibility of acquiring two tanker trucks and other equipment in order to help lower ISO ratings where possible, said Matthew.

The increased funds provided from a tax-supported district would also help the department acquire communication equipment, including pagers and a repeater, which will help the department adjust to the new dispatching system when Barry County's E-911 comes on-line.

"We don't have the funds for new communication equipment that will allow us to adapt to the 911 system right now," said Matthew.

In addition to providing increased fire protection, lower ISO ratings and decreased membership costs, the proposed Exeter Fire Protection District will establish an official boundary line, which will be recorded and protected under Missouri statutes.

Matthew obtained over 100 signatures in order to place the tax district issue on the April ballot. A public hearing for the tax district issue was held on Jan. 22. Exeter firefighters discussed the issue with all surrounding fire departments prior to placing the issue on the April ballot.

"This is one tax that is necessary," said Matthew. "In order for the department to survive, if the issue fails, it is almost guaranteed that we will be forced to raise dues to make ends meet."

The proposed Exeter Fire Protection District will be governed by a five-member board of trustees. JC Brattin, Earl Adams, Cheryl Cassidy, Ron Shockley and Jack Snook have announced their candidacies for the first five seats on the board.

The department developed a list of names of individuals that live within the current Exeter Fire Department boundaries, which is roughly based on the road district.

"We want to encourage all residents to look at the maps when they go to vote and check to see if they live within the boundary," said Matthew. "We want to make sure everyone who should have the issue on the ballot does and those who shouldn't don't."

The Exeter Fire Department responds to any fire within its boundaries and offers mutual aid to surrounding departments and districts. Non-members can be charged over $500 for fire services.

"Right now we respond to member residents and non-member residents the same," said Matthew. "A tax district would be the most equal way for us to raise our funds, and it would be more fair to our members."

For more information about the proposed Exeter Fire Protection District, call Matthew at 835-5702.

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