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Fire association advocates for fee

Franklin County has 13 volunteer fire departments established to protect the community. In an attempt to increase funding for these departments – for everything from training to equipment – the Franklin County Fire Association is now promoting an upcoming vote for a yearly mandatory fire service fee.

In contrast with past votes for a fire fee for residents in volunteer fire department districts – which had to receive a majority vote county-wide – the vote this year will be targeted to each individual district. The fire fee up for vote is $36 annually per residence. Homeowners 65 years and older would be exempted from paying the fee. The fee would be tacked on to residents’ ad valorem, or property, taxes and would be collected through the revenue commissioner’s office.

Currently, volunteer departments are partially funded by the tobacco tax and an annual appropriation from the county commission. Grants are also available in a limited number for equipment, but largely, local VFDs’ needs outstrip their funding sources, association president Michael Moomaw said.

Moomaw, along with committee members John James and Roy Gober, are hopeful that this additional funding would have a significant impact on ISO ratings at each department, which in turn affects insurance rates for homeowners. ISO ratings could be improved by the acquisition of more and better equipment as well as expansion of communication and training. Funds could also be used to establish a substation in Franklin County that would bring more residents into a five-mile radius of a VFD, increasing their protection and likely decreasing their insurance rates. Franklin County VFD ISO ratings presently range from 5-7, with 1 representing the highest rate and 10 representing a lack of fire protection. Russellville Fire Department, the only fully-paid department in the county, recently improved its ISO rating from a 4 to a 2.

“People don’t realize how much money it takes to run a fire department,” Moomaw said. As an example, Vina doesn’t have the funding to test certain pieces of equipment.

Volunteer Fire Departments had to amass at least 50 names on a petition to opt in to the vote for the fee, which will be on the November ballot. Presently, Gravel Hill, Blue Springs, Burnout, Hodges and East Franklin have opted in, and Probate Judge Barry Moore said VFDs are required to make their participation known by the end of the month.

“Some of them feel they aren’t ready yet,” Gober said. If this vote fails in a community, James said it is five years before a department can put it up to a vote again. Some VFDs, of course, have not been able to amass the required number of names on their petitions. Other VFDs, James said, have opted to hold off and further educate their communities on the importance of this fee before putting it up for vote.

For more information, contact the local VFD in your district. Anyone who doesn’t know what fire district they are in can contact the non-emergency line for 9-1-1: 256-332-8820.

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