Cleburne officials drafting plan for 2-mill tax for emergency services; Public would get vote on tax if lawmakers give OK
by Laura Camper
news@cleburnenews.com
Oct 24, 2013 | 3258 views |  0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cleburne County officials are working on a plan to spend the proceeds of a proposed 2-mill property tax increase to fund emergency services, a measure that could appear on ballots next year.

Before that can happen, local lawmakers have to sign off on the proposal, which would then go to voters in a referendum. Members of a committee of emergency services leaders plan to invite Rep. Richard Lindsey, a Democrat, independent Rep. Richard Laird to their next meeting Nov. 5 to explain the proposal.

One of the lawmakers must introduce the bill – legislation that has to do with funding must originate in the state’s House of Representatives, said Steve Swafford, Cleburne County Administrator.

The Cleburne County Commission created the eight-member Emergency Services Committee at a meeting in August after representatives of Cleburne County Search and Rescue came to them requesting money to pay the agency’s insurance bill and repair some equipment. The committee includes representatives of local emergency services.

An additional 2-mill tax on a home valued at $100,000 would mean roughly an extra $20 on the homeowner’s annual tax bill.

A 2-mill tax brings in about $240,000 in Cleburne County, said Joyce Fuller, Cleburne County Revenue Commissioner. About $200,000 is from property taxes and about $40,000 is from car tags, she said.

Search and Rescue is a volunteer emergency service that receives no public funding. It was surviving on fundraising alone, but as the economy tanked, donations couldn’t keep up with costs, according to Kyle Yancy, chief of the service.

Commission members allocated $5,000 to the group, but also wanted to create a steady stream of income for the service to increase its access to training.

The county’s fire departments are already the beneficiaries of a 2-mill fire tax that is split evenly among the 12 departments. While that pays for operations, the fire departments have to find other funding to purchase fire engines and other equipment, said one of the firefighters at the meeting that day. The commission also included the 12 departments as beneficiaries of the proposed ad valorem tax.

At their first meeting, the committee members also decided to devote a portion of the revenue from the proposed tax to emergency communications in the county, which have problems for about 18 months. Administrators want to buy a digital system to solve the problem, which affects all the emergency services in the county, Swafford said.

How the rest of the money will be divided is still up in the air, Swafford said.

Lindsey, the state lawmaker, said he had not heard about the proposal yet, but in general, he is in favor of bringing issues directly to the voters and would be willing to sponsor a bill calling for a referendum.

“If we have a resolution by the County Commission and the other entities are supportive,” Lindsey said. “You can never go wrong letting the people have a voice in government.”

Attempts to reach Laird and Republican Sen. Gerald Dial, who would also have to sign off on the legislation, were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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