Forum set on new tax district

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By Bryan Marshall

The Grant County Fire Chiefs’ Association plans to share findings and answer any questions at a community forum for a proposed emergency services taxing district.

The meeting, which is the first of several planned around the county, is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 9 at the Dry Ridge Fire Station at 31 Broadway St.

Members of the county’s five fire departments have been going door-to-door the past few months seeking signatures on a petition in support of the emergency services taxing district.
They have collected about 600 signatures so far with a goal of reaching 1,600.

“We’re going to explain what we’re trying to do and answer any questions,” said Dry Ridge Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeff Nantz.

“We’ve been going out to the homes and people are getting the Reader’s Digest version of what we want to do and what it will cost. They understand that the money is going toward fire and ambulance services, but how does our plan lay out?”

The fire chiefs’ association proposed an emergency services tax last year to the Grant County Fiscal Court 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.

The fiscal court has attempted to address the funding issue by discussing an ambulance taxing district that would have an initial rate set at 1.5 cents per $100 assessed property or about $15 for a home valued at $100,000.

The fire chiefs have argued that the ambulance tax, which has since been tabled indefinitely, would not generate enough revenue.

The court also passed a fire ordinance in May that would charge residents $25 on their tax bill for fire protection.

Dry Ridge and Williamstown residents, who already pay for fire service, will be exempt.

“The mayor of Dry Ridge has already talked about that, if the funding didn’t change by next July, we’d be pulling everything back to the city limits,” Nantz said. “That not only impacts the people in the county from getting an ambulance. It also impacts how long they have to wait for an ambulance.”

A loss of fire protection for county residents in Dry Ridge would negatively impact insurance rates, said Nantz.

Once the fire chiefs’ association has obtained enough signatures, they will deliver the petition, along with a justification for the emergency services taxing district, a three-year plan and other documents to the fiscal court.

They have until October to deliver the petition to the court before the signatures become null and void.

The fiscal court is then required to schedule a hearing between 30 to 90 days from receiving copies of the documents.

“They will take testimony and investigate the need for this, essentially,” Nantz said. “Obviously, the fire chiefs would speak on the deficiencies on fire and EMS and what this will do to impact it. What we’re looking at is continuing to provide and meet the demands on the fire departments and EMS that we currently have. By implementing something like this, we are allowing for the growth of the community. We’ve built a long-term plan to take care of fire and EMS services for the rest of our lives.”

After an initial hearing, the court has the option to hold a second hearing up to 90 days after the first hearing for further feedback.
Once a second hearing is completed, however, the court must render a decision within 30 days.

“They can’t just table this indefinitely,” Nantz said.

The emergency services taxing district will no longer be put on a ballot in November as originally believed.

“We wanted to put it on the ballot, kind of in a straw vote, to help with the hearing process to let the fiscal court know how their voters felt,” Nantz said.

However, it was discovered that an attorney general’s opinion determined putting a taxing district up for a non-binding vote was a violation of the law because it wasted tax payer’s money.

“We could have had 100-percent turnout in November and the entire county could have voted in favor of it, but the fiscal court could still have went and turned it down,” Nantz said.

The county is at a point where elected officials have to make some tough decisions on the services they are collecting taxes for, said Nantz.

“I feel like if we can’t provide for the safety and well-being of the citizens we’re collecting taxes from then we probably should not be collecting them anymore,” he said. “It just seems like our track record for public safety within the county has been very dismal.”