Madison County voters will hit the polls in November to vote “Yes” or “No” on renewing a one-cent sales tax for county improvements.
Just what improvements are on tap?
Well, that’s still to be determined.
But county commissioners took suggestions March 4 and heard from two groups interested in getting sales tax revenue in coming years: the local fire and rescue departments and the county industrial authority.
But the board took no votes on SPLOST.
Butch McDuffie, assistant chief of the Shiloh Community Volunteer Fire Department, addressed commissioners Monday on behalf of fire and rescue volunteers across the county.
He urged the board to consider establishing a “Fire Fighting/Rescue Apparatus Support Equipment Fund.”
The county currently provides one mill of funding — generally in the neighborhood of $600,000 to $700,000 — to the 11 county fire departments each year.
But fire officials say the one mill of property tax funding falls far short of meeting equipment needs. And the volunteer departments are heavily reliant on donations and fund-raising events to maintain equipment and services.
McDuffie presented a request for $1.2 million in sales tax money for fire and rescue services through the 2014 SPLOST.
This would give each of the 11 fire departments and the county Rescue service roughly $20,000 in sales tax money annually over five years.
One primary aim of the fire officials is to maintain proper breathing gear for those who volunteer to enter burning homes. Each individual breathing apparatus unit can cost roughly $6,000.
“These volunteers are citizens of Madison County; they are fathers and mothers of our children, our brothers and sisters, our first line of defense when emergencies arise,” said McDuffie. “Most volunteer fire department and rescue squad members work full-time jobs, have families, participate in regular fire training activities, purchase some of their own equipment and work multiple fund-raisers every year at no salaried cost to the citizens of Madison County. Yet, when the emergency call goes out, no matter what time of day or night, no matter the weather conditions, these individuals place their lives on the line and respond as teams, which save lives and protect personal property.”
County commission chairman Anthony Dove praised the volunteer firefighters of Madison County. He said county citizens need to realize how much a paid fire service would cost them and appreciate what they get from a force of volunteers.
“I think one thing this board realizes is what we receive from our volunteer force,” said Dove. “I would put our volunteers up against anybody.”
County industrial authority executive director Marvin White also urged the county commissioners Monday to consider allocating funds in the next SPLOST for water and sewer improvements. White has emphasized the need for such infrastructure to attract business to the county and expand the tax base. He also said extending water lines in the county will help improve fire services.
Dove thanked the firefighters and White for their proposals. He said the county commissioners will hold more meetings in coming weeks to discuss proposals. The group will soon hear SPLOST requests from county departments.