Fire district to seek tax increase

The Craig Rural Fire Protection District plans to ask voters this November for a $150,000-a-year budget boost.

The additional three-fourths of 1 mill would increase the district's annual budget from $415,000 to $565,000 and would allow the department the option to lease-purchase emergency vehicles that are crucial to operations, board member John Whinery said.

"Our main purpose is to try to achieve the replacement of emergency vehicles," he said. "We're at this dilemma where we need to look at the long term, but we're not looking at replacing the whole fleet at once."

District board members unanimously approved sending the ballot question to voters during Thursday night's board meeting. If passed, it would increase taxes about $5 a year on a $100,000 home. It would increase the district's mill levy to 2.72 -- which firefighters said would still be close to the lowest mill levy for a fire district in the state.

"This will just fix the problems that we have today," board member Byron Willems said of the proposed mill levy increase. "We have an aging fleet of trucks and an obvious tanker problem. To replace that will cost $200,000. We're looking at a million dollars worth of costs in the next seven years."

Firefighters were discouraged last year when one of the department's two water tanker trucks blew its motor en route to a structure fire. Fire officials said before the mishap they had spent $77,000 refurbishing the 1972 tanker that was new to the department, but had about 200,000 miles on it. An unused replacement tanker truck will be the first expenditure for the department, followed by a replacement of a 1976 truck used to pump water -- if voters approve the mill levy increase, board members said.

Fire officials have been mulling over whether to present voters with the ballot question for several months and the terms "weren't just arbitrarily grasped out of thin air," board President Tommy Cotton said.

"We did a lot of looking into this and figuring out what would work," he said.

Fire officials said they would approach November's request with sensitivity in the wake of a 2002 proposed mill levy increase that was rejected by about three-fourths of the voters. Officials said they plan to launch an extensive educational campaign to show voters their genuine concern for the department's aging vehicles.

"There's nothing to say that this won't happen again to another truck out back," Cotton said of the department's one unusable tanker truck.

In other business, the board unanimously named Chris Nichols interim fire chief. Roy Mason's retirement as fire chief is effective Sept. 1.

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