White Hall Fire Protection District Annexes Rural Areas

By Benjamin Cox on September 5, 2023 at 1:44pm

The White Hall Fire Protection District Board has forcibly annexed rural properties into its district.

The vote, which came in mid-August, was met with many rural residents’ disdain over increases in property taxes.

According to the Greene Prairie Press, the board’s attorney Jim Sinclair explained to the crowd of roughly 50 concerned citizens who came to the vote why the annexation had to happen, the state law that makes it legal, and the levying of the taxes that will now fund the district.

In 2018, the White Hall Fire Protection District was formed via a referendum that only passed within the City of White Hall and failed in the rural voting districts. Over the past 5 years, the fire protection has been voluntarily solicitating subscriptions for fire coverage from rural residents. Sinclair explained during the meeting that the subscriptions weren’t being purchased at a rate enough to sustain the fire department.

Sinclair says that under the mandated statewide 9-1-1 system, fire protection districts have to answer a call if it’s within their territory whether a subscription is purchased or not. Under a 2022 law passed by the General Assembly, fire protection districts can forcibly annex territory that is under its mandated 9-1-1 service area in order to assess taxes for funding.

Property owners in the newly annexed area will begin paying taxes for the service with the 2023 tax levy. The annexation will open up the department to respond more freely without having to issue a bill for services to any residents within the district.

Sinclair said he did some computations, based on the original proposed levy amount of $175,000 for the district’s budget and using numbers from FY2021, the tax rate would be about .0033.

White Hall Fire Protection Board President Scott Seely informed the crowd at the meeting that not only were the district’s fire engines nearing 40 years old but OSHA had recently dinged the department for out-of-specification equipment that is still in need of being replaced. The fire protection district, which is a volunteer department, he says needs the tax funding to continue to put out fires as well as do search and rescue calls, like grain bin entrapment and submerged vehicles.