Fire department faces chronic budget shortfalls

Fire department faces chronic budget shortfalls (Reporter: Jon Erickson)

POLLOCKSVILLE, JONES COUNTY - Firefighters who hold fundraisers in order to put fuel in the fire trucks are looking for some relief in the form of a new property tax, but it appears that tax is unlikely to become a reality.

The Pollocksville Volunteer Fire Department is facing a budget shortfall of $35,000 for its 2013-2014 budget year, according to Buddy Weatherington, the department's treasurer.

"We don't want to be a country club fire department, we just want a budget that will pay the bills," Weatherington said.

Weatherington, on behalf of the department, suggested a fire tax to the Jones County Board of Commissioners.

The tax would function as a property tax; one possible rate would collect $50 per year on a $100,000 property from property owners within the Pollocksville Fire District

The tax would fill the gap in the current budget.

Jones County provides approximately $19,000 per year to the department; the Town of Pollocksville provides approximately $6,000, Weatherington said.

That $25,000 income falls short of the department's $60,000 of annual expenses.

(The annual loan payment on the department's newest fire truck is $10,000, Weatherington said.)

Regarding the fire tax proposal, commissioners have two options: vote to approve what's called a fire service district tax, or require voter approval to create what's called a rural fire protection district.

The major difference is the former does not require ballot approval.

Commissioners decided to not implement the service district tax, instead deciding a new tax must be approved by voters.

"All of our volunteer fire departments are having problems with budgets," Commissioner Joe Wiggins said.

"They just have to have fundraisers to survive," Wiggins said.

Weatherington believes the tax would fail if put to a public vote.

Without the volunteers operating fundraisers, "we'd have to shut down," Weatherington said.

Weatherington says firefighters hope to mount a public awareness campaign to gain public support for the fire service district tax.

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