Asking for a tax increase amid a pandemic

Marion County Fire District #1 has spent the past year communicating about its need for funding to hire additional personnel and replace emergency apparatus and equipment. Our board of directors approved a resolution in November 2019 to be on the May 19 Primary Election ballot asking voters to renew and increase our local operating levy.

Then COVID-19 hit in the middle of our communicating about this critical funding source.

Here are the facts: Measure 24-441 renews our local operating levy that accounts for almost 30 percent of our property tax revenue. It also includes a 28-cent increase. If approved by voters, the levy would change from 71 to 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. This increase would cost $4.67 per month (or $56 per year) for the owner of a $200,000 home, which is an average for our service territory.

The fact is that these needs existed before the pandemic hit. Now, our staffing shortages are more apparent than ever. For example, we have fewer volunteers responding to calls as they stay home to reduce their exposure to the virus, and the potential of bringing it home to their families. This means our overtime and temporary personnel costs are running $35,000 higher a month.

Then there is the issue of skyrocketing costs for personal protective equipment (PPEs) for emergency personnel. A mask that cost $1 in December is now $6. Costs are higher for disinfectant, hand sanitizers and decontamination products because the demand is so great. We don’t have many options here; we must pay whatever is needed to keep you and our first responders safe. In some cases we are reusing PPE that is not contaminated.

The pandemic also impacts the amount of revenue we receive. For example, we receive a fee from insurance companies, Medicare or Medicaid when we transport someone to a hospital. This revenue funds emergency personnel, ambulances and medical equipment needed to respond to calls. More people staying home means fewer calls that would require such a service. Make no mistake – we want you to stay home! But, it’s important to understand how this reduces funding for emergency services.

If the operating levy is approved by voters, we will hire additional personnel and set some money aside to replace apparatus and equipment. The reality is that some funding also will go to pay costs associated with COVID-19.

As a fire chief, firefighter, paramedic and registered nurse, I know how to respond to almost every emergency be it COVID-19, a residential fire, car accident or skinned knee. But I honestly have no idea what the outcome of our ballot measure will be. I just know that the need for emergency services funding is critical in these uncertain times.

(Kyle McMann is the Fire Chief for Marion County Fire District #1. The Fire District is a separate taxing authority and independent of Marion County. More information on the Fire District’s operating levy request can be found at www.mcfd1.com.)