08/31/10 — Fire lines are getting new look in county

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Fire lines are getting new look in county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 31, 2010 1:46 PM

Proposed new fire service district lines will clear up confusion over existing fire protection and insurance district lines without any additional tax burden, Wayne County Fire Marshal Bryan Taylor said this week.

Most people will not even notice the change, he said.

Currently, some Wayne County homes served by a fire department receive no insurance premium benefit because they are located in areas that fall outside the department's insurance district. In those same cases, the fire department receives no fire tax revenue from those properties.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the county, there are overlapping fire district lines that generate confusion as to which district should receive the fire tax revenues.

Those are the problems that county fire officials hope will be resolved by proposed new fire service district lines. Even then, most people will not notice any change, Taylor said.

County commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposal Sept. 21 at 9:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

If approved, the changes would not become effective until the 2011-12 budget year.

Information about the proposal, including maps, was included with tax bills recently mailed to county residents. The bundling was done to save postage costs, Taylor said.

While the maps give a general idea of the new fire service district lines, Taylor said they could be hard to read. He said the public is welcome to view larger copies of the map, as well as more information, at his office in the Jeffreys Building on North John Street.

They also may call Taylor at 731-1416.

The fire service district lines would mirror the updated fire protection districts -- areas served by a specific fire department -- approved by commissioners in January 2009.

Normally those lines extend five miles from the fire station. In some cases, they were extended to six miles to ensure that all of the country is within a district.

The proposed fire service districts would not change the service or delivery of services currently being provided in the county, and there would be no additional tax burden, Taylor said.

Fire departments would continue to contract with the county and provide fire protection for their respective fire protection districts. The departments also would continue to submit a budget request to the county based on fire tax rates approved by commissioners, he said.

"Most of the people are not going to see any change," Taylor said. "There are little changes throughout the county, but not significant changes. Some people will pay less (fire) tax than what they paid this year because of what district they are in. Then there are some who will pay a little more because they went into a different district."

For example, Elroy provides fire protection for some areas outside its district, but receives no tax income and the proposed fire service district will address those issues, he said.

"We had a lot of area on the back side of Walnut Creek, St. John Church Road area that wasn't in any kind of fire protection district, which is your insurance district, so they were paying outrageous insurance premiums for homeowner's insurance," he said.

People who live in a fire protection district may receive a break on their fire insurance premiums based on the department's insurance rating.

Elroy has opened a new substation to cover those areas, he said.

"That area they are covering now, they are not getting tax money for," he said. "Some of those (other) areas, other departments are getting the money. In essence what (fire service districts) will do is mirror the current fire (tax) districts."

The county has been working on the mapping project for five years following a routine insurance inspection of the local fire departments by the state Fire Marshal's Office, Taylor said.

"Several years ago, as fire departments began going through insurance rating through the state Fire Marshal's Office, they started finding problems with district lines," he said. "Some of the lines were overlapping other districts. We knew we had problems there. We had started correcting some of those when we realized we have a bigger problem."

The State Fire Marshal's office suggested using GIS (satellite) mapping and property lines because "that clears up everything," he said

"We took the districts as they were and looked at them and the outer edges of them changed a little bit because of property lines," Taylor said.

Originally, the majority of the fire districts matched rural fire protection districts that in essence are fire tax districts, he said.

"Those districts were going along with those tax district lines, so we had the same problems. We had overlaps and areas in the county that were not covered," he said. "You had certain people out there who were not in anybody's fire protection district so they were not getting any insurance break.

"These fire service districts, what they will end up being is actually the tax districts for fire departments for fire protection in the county. What I am proposing to the commissioners is take these fire service districts and they will mirror the actual fire districts and area the fire departments respond to."

Public votes created the tax districts and another vote would be required to make changes. Changes in state laws opened the door for what the county is proposing, he said.

"The amount of money we would have to spend on that (vote) is just too great," Taylor said. "(Legislators) rewrote some laws and said, 'OK, you can create service districts and you can tax those service districts as long as you meet certain criteria.' Fire protection falls into one of those criteria.

"Fire districts are not going to change at all. It will just to create these fire service districts so that we can correct problems we have with fire tax districts."