Hampshire fire district seeking property tax hike

Updated 2/2/2018 1:35 PM
  • The Hampshire Fire Protection District is asking voters to approve a tax hike to increase staffing levels and replace equipment.

      The Hampshire Fire Protection District is asking voters to approve a tax hike to increase staffing levels and replace equipment. John Radtke | Staff Photographer

The Hampshire Fire Protection District will ask voters again this spring for a property tax hike to replace aging equipment and fund staffing increases.

If approved, a binding referendum question on the March 20 ballot would authorize the fire district to levy a 0.1 percent tax for an emergency and rescue fund. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $67 per year in property taxes, Deputy Chief Trevor Herrmann said.

The new tax would generate roughly $217,000 annually for the fire district, which is operating on a $1.54 million budget, he said. A portion of those funds would be used to increase the number of firefighters on duty at any given time from four to five.

The fire district wouldn't hire any additional staff, but would increase hours for some of its 34 part-timers to cover the extra shifts, Herrmann said. Adding an on-duty firefighter around the clock, which costs about $140,000 per year, offers more support if the district needs to respond to multiple calls at once, he said, as was the case nearly 200 times last year.

The district responded to 1,221 total calls in 2017 -- a 4 percent increase over the previous year.

The rest of the revenue generated by the new tax would go into a fund designated for replacing vehicles and equipment. In the next few years, Herrmann said, the fire district will likely need to purchase a new $500,000 fire engine, a nearly $200,000 ambulance and more than two dozen air packs, which can cost about $240,000.

Fire officials plan to apply for grants to help offset the costs, he said, "but that's hit or miss."

Voters shot down a similar proposal last spring, when the fire district also failed to pass a second referendum seeking a 0.15 percent tax for tort liability purposes. The extra revenue would have been used to rent space in a multi-tenant building and open a second fire station near Route 20 and Interstate 90, Herrmann said.

The district, which has one firehouse in downtown Hampshire, intends to eventually build another at Harmony and Melms roads, he said. Officials hoped the rented facility would help improve response times in the northern portion of the district in the meantime, but the space is no longer available.

A citizens committee has been tasked with raising awareness about this year's referendum and informing voters of its potential benefits for the community, Herrmann said. "Hopefully we can get it to pass," he said.

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