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FIRE FIGHT

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Funding battle continues

By Bryan Marshall

What’s next?

After several proposals, countless meetings and endless debate, the future of funding for fire and ambulance service in Grant County is still cloudy.

However, things may get a little clearer next week.

The Grant County Fiscal Court unanimously approved a first reading April 16 of an ordinance for subscriber fees for fire departments.

A final reading will be voted on during the May 7 meeting at the Grant County Courthouse.

The cost of the dues, which residents of Dry Ridge and Williamstown would be exempt from, would be $25 for the first year.

The fee would be put on the tax bills mailed to residents in the fall.

They would have to pay their tax bill in full before filling out a form asking for a refund of their fire subscription dues.

Fire chiefs would submit an annual report to the fiscal court that included how much money the fire dues brought in and what that funding was used for.

The chiefs could ask the magistrates to increase the amount of the fees each year, if needed. However, any increase would be up to the discretion of the magistrates.

The fate of two other separate taxing districts are still up in the air.

The fiscal court initially was supposed to discuss and potentially vote on a second reading of an ambulance taxing district that would help create funding for more ambulance service throughout the county when magistrates met April 16.

However, the item was left off the agenda.

If passed, each magistrate would choose a member within their district to be part of a newly created ambulance taxing district board.

The board would have the responsibility to set the rate for the taxing district, but the ordinance states that the initial rate would be set at 1.5 cents per $100 assessed property or about $15 for a home valued at $100,000.

“The ambulance ordinance is tabled indefinitely, and only by majority vote of the magistrates may it be placed on a future agenda, and even then, the second reading must be published in the newspaper,” said Grant County Judge-Executive Darrell Link.

The Grant County Fire Chiefs’ Association, who believe the ambulance tax proposed by the fiscal court will not provide sufficient funding, has proposed an emergency services tax to help generate revenue for both fire and ambulance services.

After initially proposing a tax rate of 11 cents per $100 assessed value, the association has discussed dropping the rate to 6.5 to 7.5 cents, which would cost taxpayers $65 to $75 on a $100,000 home.

Despite the fire dues proposal, Crittenden Fire Chief Lee Burton said the departments are continuing their fight for the emergency services taxing district.

“The flat dues tax that the judge is imposing is, at best, a stop-gap measure,” he said. “It’s like a dam that everybody knows needs to be fixed. When you get a leak, somebody puts a finger in it and says that will do for right now. You still have to fix it. It’s just trying to get everybody to agree on how to fix it.”

The departments have been going door to door asking residents to sign a petition to get the taxing district on the November ballot.

The departments have about 350 signatures, as of May 1.

If the fiscal court does not permit the group to only collect 100 signatures, the association would be required to get the petition signed by 25 percent of the average number of registered voters in the taxing district who voted in the last four general elections.

“We’re hoping we’re looking at between 1,600 and 2,000 signatures,” Burton said.

Burton said the petition needs to be submitted 180 days from the time the chiefs received their first signature.

The fire chiefs’ association plans to present the petition to the fiscal court and the circuit clerk in June.

“The fiscal court has put together something (fire dues) that will tide us over until one way or the other we get this tax question answered by the populace,” Burton said.