EDITORIAL: Proposed fire tax is money well spent

Published 12:51 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

It’s a special occasion and you decide to take the family to the Chicken Shack. Maricia is your waitress and as usual, she’s phenomenal. She remembers what everyone likes to drink and has the glasses in front of you before you can order them. She gets every order right and checks on you often. This kind of service deserves a good tip. So, for your $50 check, you add a 25-cent tip for dear Maricia.
It doesn’t sound fair, does it? For all she does, you would gladly leave her more than a quarter.
If you can agree good service is worth more than 25 cents, the proposed fire tax should be a no-brainer. The fire tax referendum will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
For every $50 you spend in Crenshaw County, you will be taxed an extra quarter. That quarter does not go into the pockets of the hard workers who respond to every fire in the county (585 of them last year). They are all volunteers.
Crenshaw has 12 volunteer fire departments and no paid firefighters. Since the late 1970s when firefighters last proposed a fire tax, stations have operated on $700 a month from tax money. In those days, fuel cost around 88 cents a gallon, about a fourth of what fuel would cost you today. The taxes have not kept up with today’s costs of operating a station. Some stations are operating in the red, taking out loans to cover matching federal grants for the trucks they need.
Stephen Wilson, president of the Crenshaw County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, says the savings homeowners receive because of the existence of local fire stations far outweigh the additional sales tax. A fire station is rated according to the quantity and condition of its equipment. The rating factors in to the cost of homeowners insurance. Without a nearby fire department (or a good rating), insurance companies will not cover homes.
The additional funds will go toward the day-to-day operation of local volunteer fire departments. According to the CCAVD, the expenses include an average cost of $5,500 per department for insurance; fire equipment at a cost of $6,500 per firefighter; maintenance and repairs of fire stations, trucks and equipment; training; and fuel. Everyone can agree that is a quarter well spent.