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Paulding Fire and Rescue officials say stations may close without tax hike
by Savannah Weeks
May 30, 2012 03:08 PM | 790 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Paulding County Fire and Rescue bureau may have to close fire stations and reduce staff if the current fire and rescue millage rate of 2 mills is not increased, an advisory board official said last week.

Paulding voters first approved the tax in 2006, and the bureau started using funds from it in 2008.

Because of the extreme decline in property values in the county, funds collected from the fire tax have dropped severely.

Board of Commissioners Chairman David Austin said property values have dropped about 43 percent since 2009.

Paulding Fire and Rescue Advisory Board Chairman Matthew Chambers last week presented the board of commissioners with three options to rectify the budget shortfall.

The first option keeps the millage rate at current levels, risking a budget shortfall in fiscal year 2014.

“This option may result in a reduction of stations and staff, jeopardizing public safety and an increase in [Insurance Service Office] ratings, resulting in higher homeowner insurance premiums,” he said.

The second option he presented was a 1-mill increase in the current rate, which would sustain the current budget through fiscal year 2014 without improvements or cutbacks in staff and stations.

“One mill would actually bring us to where you could cover the bills,” said Post 3 County Commissioner Tommie Graham.

The final option would be to delay a millage rate increase until fiscal year 2014 at a rate that would accommodate the current budget along with future needs.

“That would most likely incur a substantial millage rate increase at 2014 to prevent these substantial shortfalls,” Chambers said.

In order to better serve the public and reduce the county’s ISO rating, fire and rescue officials hope to build a fire station at the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport and a substation to serve the New Georgia community.

“Class 9 [ISO rating] can be a homeowner that doesn’t have a fire hydrant in 1,000 feet or a fire station within five miles. Those homes are having higher rates applied by their insurance companies,” said Fire Chief Mike Earwood. “There’s nothing we can do about that except try to fill in those gaps in the future with some stations and we’ve discussed some substations.”

Residents in many areas of Paulding County are in a catch-22 position.

Without increasing the millage rate, the ISO rating will not decrease, meaning homeowners in the affected areas will be paying either way.

The fire stations would be built using funds from a past special purpose local option sales tax, but staffed with funding from the fire tax.

The advisory board expects they would need to hire 21 new employees over the next five years, according to Chambers.

The fire tax law passed in 2006 limits the tax to 5 mills.

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