MILTON — County commissioners unanimously approved an MSBU for fire protection at Tuesday's special commissioners meeting.
According to county documents, it is the first time since 2007 that an increase has been approved. The growth of the county has exceeded the capacity of area fire services. With a 37 percent increase in call volume and additional houses in areas that previously did not demand fire protection, there is a need for additional fire stations, fire apparatus and full-time firefighters.
The areas with needs are the unincorporated communities that use volunteer firefighters. They are Allentown, Bagdad, Berrydale, East Milton, Harold, Jay, Munson, Pace and Skyline. Volunteerism has decreased in the last 10 years according to the county and call volumes continued to increase putting a strain on those who are running the calls.
What this means is that residents of those areas will see an increase in their property taxes starting Oct. 1.
Here are the changes in the new fire assessment rates for 2019:
Residential Tier 1 (2,700 square feet or less under roof) = went from $85 to $103
Residential Tier 2 (greater than 2,700 square feet) = went from $175 to $155
Vacant Lot = went from $13 a lot to a flat rate of $10 per acre
Non-Residential (commercial or other) = went from $0.025 to $0.038 per square foot
The acronym MSBU stands for Municipal Services Benefit Unit. The MSBU may be created for road paving, sewer lines, street lighting, speed humps, (normally initiated by neighborhood petition of 66 percent or more) and fire protection. Fire protection MSBU's are initiated by county commissioners, Commissioner Sam Parker said .
"We expect to see about $200,000," Pace Fire and Rescue Chief Robbie Whitfield said. "We can hire two additional firefighters, replace some aging apparatuses, and start renovations on the Pea Ridge Fire Station."
Chief Whitfield said it was the only way to do it. Without an increase in MSBU's in 10 years Pace Fire and rescue was barely making it, but they could not keep up with the growth.
Chief Whitfield said Pace wants to become its own special fire district. In 2016, a non-binding referendum was voted on and 69 percent of residents wanted Pace to become its own fire district. In Nov. 2018, the ballot will have a binding referendum for a vote. If it gets the votes, Pace can set their own rates for fire protection and will break away from MSBU funding.
The county used a rate study by Government Services Group. Commissioners decided to use only 75 percent of the amount recommended by the study.