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Firefighters urge voters to approve proposed fire tax

As president of the Crenshaw County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, Stephen Wilson is a bit concerned about the upcoming general election.

The ballot will include a local referendum that has been years in the making. Now, he is worried voters may overlook it.

“The referendum is the last item on the last page of the ballot,” he said.

Another concern is a two-cent sales tax the city of Luverne introduced last month. While that tax was tabled a few weeks ago, Wilson wants voters to know the half-cent sales tax local firefighters have proposed is still very much alive.

“It’s been a concern but I’m hoping that everybody is aware,” Wilson said.

Crenshaw County firefighters have proposed a half-cent increase in sales tax to cover growing operational expenses. For every $100 spent in the county, consumers would pay an additional 50 cents.

“The savings will far outweigh the tax increase,” said Wilson.

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.

Crenshaw has 12 volunteer fire departments and no paid firefighters. “Each fire department gets about $700 a month from tax money, which is not enough to operate a station,” Wilson said.

Firefighters have acquired 11 trucks through federal grants. But those grants came with a price tag. Each one required matching funds. Wilson said most departments had to take out loans to match the funds.

Operational costs and loan payments have left the fire stations in debt and in need of another source of income, namely the proposed “fire tax.” Without the tax, Wilson said some stations may have to close.

Firefighters started the legislative process a few years ago, having the proposed tax introduced and passed in the state’s legislative branches. The final step will be the Nov. 4 vote.

“They should vote ‘yes’ on the referendum,” Wilson said. “We currently get very little funding from the taxpayers. And we provide a service the citizens of this county really couldn’t live without.”