Proposed Jacksonville Rural Fire Protection Dist. Heads to April Ballot

By Jeremy Coumbes on March 11, 2021 at 6:03pm

Residents of rural Jacksonville will be asked to decide on how fire protection will be handled in the April consolidated election.

The proposed Jacksonville Rural Fire Protection District will be up for approval on the April 6th ballot. The Jacksonville Fire Department has served as a consultant during the process of how to best serve the rural Jacksonville community.

Fire Chief Doug Sills says of approximately 2,100 addresses that are considered to be in rural Jacksonville, a little over 400 currently are subscribers for service from the fire department.

Sills says communication is being sent out in the coming days to all fire protection subscribers explaining what forming a fire protection district would entail.

According to the communication, if the Jacksonville Rural Fire Protection District were to be approved, it would provide enhanced fire protection and emergency medical services at the paramedic level as well as technical rescue services.

Critics of the formation of the district cite the extra tax burden they feel would be placed on their pocketbooks each year. Sills says a fire protection district would be a wash for most property owners within the district who would see savings on their insurance. And most current subscribers would see a significant reduction in their fire protection costs.

He says currently the insurance rating in the proposed area is an 8 on a 1 to 10 scale with 1 being the best possible fire department coverage and a 10 meaning the property had no coverage by a fire department at all.

He says the formation of the district would potentially lower the rating to a 7 with opportunity for improvement of the ISO rating down the road.

Sills says part of the goal of a fire protection district would be reinvestment of tax revenue back into the service area to improve the infrastructure, such as being able to provide more equipment and accessible water sources to help in putting out fires faster.

Currently, the City of Jacksonville’s formula for figuring fire protection rates is based on a property’s assessed value of the single residential structure only. Still says if the fire protection district were to pass, the entire parcel of land including all structures would be protected based on the net taxable value of that parcel.

The proposed district would have a tax rate of .4% or $4 dollars per every $1,000 dollars of assessed value. As an example, Sills says a home with a fair cash value of $150,000 would have an assessed value of $50,000 which would equate to a $200 annual charge or $16.33 per month.

He says currently with the 400 subscribers for fire protection, no funds are able to be reinvested back into the rural area as those are used to cover costs for calls anywhere in the rural area.

Between Friday and Tuesday evening, the Jacksonville Fire Department had six calls outside of the corporate city limits. Sills says the approximate cost to the city for those six calls is over $8,000.

Sills says the district would spread the costs of fire protection in the county areas more fairly which are now being paid by subscribers and Jacksonville City taxpayers.

He says a Town Hall is being planned to be held at the end of this month to help answer any questions or concerns residents may have before they make their decision on election day.

A date for the Town Hall has not yet been finalized however Sills says it is tentatively planned for the week of the 22nd, and a formal announcement will be made once a date and time are set.