December 31, 2006
North Tongass residents now pay a property tax rate of 1.7 mills for the North Tongass Fire & EMS services, or $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Most North Tongass residents also pay a $100 structure fee. The North Tongass Service Area Board is proposing to double the structure fee to $200 and reduce the mill rate to 1.6 or 1.5 mills. At the present 1.7 mill rate, property assessed at $250,000 that contains a structure pays $525 in North Tongass Service Area taxes and fees.
"We're trying to level the playing field a little, but it's never really going to be level," said Steve Phillips, chairman of the North Tongass Fire & EMS Service Area, "We're trying to be fair to everybody out there." He said it is understood that this is a controversial path to take, but the Board believes there is a gap in the services and there is a need to find a solution. This is why the Board of Directors is proactively seeking public comment said Phillips.
In addition to Phillips, the other Board members are Guy Mickel, Judy Berg, Paul Hook and Gary Webb. All members are residents of the service area. The Board has been discussing the proposed tax and fee changes since early summer. The proposed changes are designed to generate about $75,000 in additional revenue, enough to fund a third firefighter/medic if approved.
While the department's current personnel are well trained and equipped, Fire Chief David Hull said that many of the department's volunteers work downtown and can't respond to a call as fast as the department would like, especially during the weekdays.
Hull said having a third firefighter
could save several minutes in response time. "Minutes can
mean the difference between life and death or a good hit on a
working fire," said
"Adding the third firefighter will also give the people in our service area a more consistent response by providing coverage when Lt. Kiffer or I are not available," said Hull. Adding the third firefighter will also enhance NTVFD's standing with ISO, the insurance rating organization. The better the rating with ISO the lower the insurance costs.
Phillips said the third firefighter will have to be an Emergency Medical Technician II minimum and have advanced life support capabilities. He said the board's preference is to hire someone local. He said the board plans to submit a request for a third firefighter to the Assembly by early February. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly would then decide whether to hire the third firefighter, as well as the firefighter's pay classification. The pay classifications could range from $72,000 to $77,000 with benefits.
Then, Philips said, if the Assembly approved the hiring of a third firefighter, the proposed fee and tax structure would be addressed during the borough's budget process in May. If approved, the new fee structure would take effect July 1.
"There will still be plenty
of time for public comment," said Phillips.
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