Hampshire fire district again seeking tax hike for personnel, equipment

After two failed attempts, the Hampshire Fire Protection District will try again this fall for a property tax increase.

If approved by voters, a binding referendum question on the Nov. 6 ballot would allow the fire district to levy a 0.1 percent tax to create an emergency and rescue fund. The new tax would generate an additional $236,000 to go toward replacing aging equipment and increasing staffing levels, Deputy Chief Trevor Herrmann said.

The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $67 per year in property taxes.

The sole fire station at 202 Washington Ave. is staffed with five people about 25 percent of the time, while all other shifts are covered by four people, Herrmann said.

To handle a rising number of calls, the district wants to increase its personnel levels to five or six for every shift, he said. That would mean hiring about five additional part-time firefighters.

The district currently has six full-time employees and 34 part-timers.

Adding on-duty firefighters around the clock is especially helpful if crews are called to two or more incidents at once, as was the case nearly 200 times last year, Herrmann said. They respond to more than 1,200 calls annually.

"The problem is we're running more and more multiple calls in progress," he said. With low staffing levels, the fire district often gets tied up on its first call and has to rely on mutual aid partners to handle subsequent calls, which can cause delayed response times.

Additionally, some revenue generated by the new tax would be used to purchase new apparatus - including a $600,000 fire engine and a $200,000 ambulance - in the next few years, Herrmann said. Officials also are seeking grants to help offset new equipment costs.

Similar proposals for a tax increase were shot down by voters in the past two elections. This time around, the district is using social media, community meetings and a citizen committee to help spread the word, Herrmann said.

During the district's first tax hike attempt in 2017, officials also failed to pass a second referendum question seeking a 0.15 percent tax. That extra revenue would have been used to open a second fire station in a rented space near Route 20 and Interstate 90 - an area experiencing economic growth, Herrmann said.

Officials now are working on a plan to build a second station on the north side of the district without having to ask taxpayers for more money, he said.

"Our call volume is going to increase pretty quickly up there," Herrmann said. "Hopefully I can make that happen."

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