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Chesterfield Fire May Seek Higher Taxes

The township department says declining property values and other factors will likely mean a need for a tax increase in the near future.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to highlight the potential tax increase is expected to be requested at the time of existing millage renewal.

Chesterfield Township taxpayers may vote on whether to approve a millage increase for the in the near future.

Faced with declining property values resulting in smaller collections on the existing taxes, the department wants to seek more funding on a ballot proposal by early 2013, Fire Chief Doug Charbonneau said.

"It's probably going to have to be increased," Charbonneau said of the existing fire millage.

A vote to increase the fire fund millage is expected to take place when the current millage is up for renewal. In these early stages, it has not been determined how much would be sought if the proposal to raise taxes does, in fact, get authorized for ballot placement.

Fire fund collects for operations, equipment

Residents who own houses with a market value of $120,000 or a taxable value of $60,000 pay $140.85 annually for the fire department, according to township Finance Director Victoria Bauer.

That money is collected under the approximate two mills for operations and half mill for equipment—which currently come to about 1.9 mills and .46 mills, respectively, because of declining home values, Charbonneau said.

"As property values go down, our collections go down right with it," he said.

For example, the operational tax alone brought in $3 million in 2011, but that tax is expected to bring in $2.8 million this year, $2.5 million in 2013 and $2.4 million in 2014, according to departmental budget reports.

In 2008, voters approved an additional half mill for the department, bringing in an extra $900,000. That was the first time the department received more tax funding since the initial millage was set in 1992—well before a population influx, the chief said.

Departmental shortages

Since 2007, the fire department has been operating with less manpower. It went from 30 full-time firefighters, including the fire chief, deputy chief, inspector and 27 firefighters, as well as about a dozen paid-on-call firefighters.

Today, the full-time employees are the fire chief, his secretary and 19 firefighters of various ranks and there are nine paid-on-call firefighters, Charbonneau said.

In the past year, Chesterfield fire has gone on about 3,000 runs, with firefighters from other communities assisting on larger blazes. However, the township cannot rely on outside departments, many of which are short-staffed themselves, to help all the time, he said.

"They're not going to subsidize our shortages," he said.

Coping with hard economic times

Despite financial difficulties, the department is currently seeking 15 paid-on-call firefighters through an outside agency that recommends candidates for free, according to the chief.

Paid-on-call firefighters frequently prevent full-time firefighters from running into costly overtime. They make $12 an hour for training and $15 an hour for shift work during their first year. The regular pay then becomes $17.81 an hour for training or shift work and then $26.72 an hour for actual fire-fighting work, he said.

Additionally, the department received a grant for fire gear like helmets, coats, pants and gloves. The fire department will match 10 percent of that $42,000 grant.

Would you be willing to pay more in taxes for the fire department? Tell us why in the comments section below.

N Kortas January 28, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Sorry but we ae barely keeping our heads above water.
Tom Rowley January 28, 2012 at 10:57 PM
One thing this article fails to mention is that the current fire millage runs out in 2013. This is a millage renewal not just an increase. If the new fire millage that will be presented does not pass the whole department will no longer exist. The Twp will longer recieve money to pay for a fire dept and there will be no money to pay for a paid on call department or fulltime department.
Christy Arboscello (Editor) January 29, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Thanks for the comment, Tom. The story has been updated to emphasize any potential vote to increase the fire millage is expected to take place when the existing millage is up for renewal.
kidcat24 January 30, 2012 at 03:57 AM
The Fire Dept. has my support along with every other public service job.

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