For the second year in a row, 56 percent of the cost of funding the Commerce Fire Department will not come from the city.
Instead, residents of the East Jackson Fire District will pay $177,000 of the Commerce Fire Department’s $272,323 budget for the current fiscal year, in spite of the fact that during 2012 only 17.2 percent of the department’s fire calls were in the East Jackson Fire District.
Under an agreement between Jackson County and Commerce, the East Jackson Fire District can levy up to three mills of ad valorem taxes with which it contracts with Commerce for fire services. The current levy is 1.6 mills, unchanged in years.
How the cost is allocated is not as clear.
“The fire board sets the millage rate,” notes Commerce fire chief Keith Whitfield. “We (the fire department) submit a budget to the city. Clarence (Bryant, former city manager) had the ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on the budget.”
According to Bryant the funding formula in the beginning split the operational costs of the department based on the ratio of fire calls between the city and the tax district.
“We started with a ratio,” Bryant recalled. “It used to be about 60-40, then it moved to around 50-50. That’s the rate we used the last two or three years.”
Indeed, the current budget calls for the fire district to pay half of the operational costs. But it also calls for the district to pay all of the debt service.
That’s because the debt service is tied to the recent purchase of a tanker truck — because much of its East Jackson Fire District coverage area is not close to a fire hydrant. Debt service in the current budget amounts to $42,788.
Former Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. said the payment by the fire district was originally based on the ratio of calls.
“I followed it for a long time while I was on the fire department,” he said.
Hardy also speculated that the change in the ratio of fire calls in recent years is tied to a decision several years ago by 911 to dispatch fire trucks to virtually every motor vehicle accident as, apparently, a liability reduction move. Most accidents do not involve a need for a fire truck, but those responses are recorded as “fire calls” in the fire department’s statistics. (In fact, a heavy majority of the fire department’s calls are not the result of fires —false alarms, fire alarm or smoke detector malfunctions, steam mistaken as smoke and other events result in fire trucks being dispatched.)
When property tax bills are paid, tax commissioner Don Elrod sends the revenue from the fire district tax to the city, where it goes into a special revenue fund. According to finance director James Wascher, the money then belongs to the city with no strings attached.
According to the current city budget, the special revenue fund from the fire district began the fiscal year with almost $107,000. If the fiscal year plays out according to the budget, the fund will receive $177,000 in new revenue — exactly the amount budgeted to help fund the fire department, which means the fund should have almost $107,000 remaining at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
There’s a payoff for some residents of the fire district, however. Those within five miles of the fire station enjoy an ISO rating of 4, which creates a substantial savings on fire insurance premiums. Anyone further out than five mills has a class 9 rating.
The district is bordered by Interstate 85 in Jackson County, the Banks County line and the Madison County line on the north and east, the North Oconee River to the west and Hoods Mill Road, Harris Lord Cemetery Road and A.C. Smith Road to the south.
Members of the East Jackson Fire District board are Ronnie Ray, David McCoy, Tommy Fields, Ronnie Smith and Archie McCook.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry