Commissioners approve ballot question for fire department
If passed, county measure would continue same property tax rate to purchase, maintain equipment
Churchill County Commissioners approved a resolution at their July 1 meeting that authorizes an election to provide funding for the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department for the purchase and repair of major fire equipment.
The local ballot question will be included for the general election. In both the 2008 and 2014 general elections, Churchill County voters approved a ballot question to purchase and refurbish equipment. The 2014 county question passed with 50.59% of the vote, and 54% approved the measure in 2008.
The language for the 2014 measure stated, “Shall Churchill County be authorized to levy an additional property tax rate for major fire equipment and apparatus purchases for the Fallon Churchill County Volunteer Fire Department in the amount of up to $0.03 per $100 assessed valuation for a period of up to six years …? The cost for the owner of a new $100,000 home is estimated to be up to $10.50 per year.”
The levy, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Shawcroft, would not result in any additional tax to residents. He said voting yes will continue the same levy of taxes for another six years.
Fire Chief Jared Dooley said the last time the levy was passed, he felt there was an issue of misinterpretation on the wording found on the ballot.
“It is sunsetting but make it a continuation and not an additional tax,” Dooley advised commissioners.
The current tax will expire June 20, 2021. The board must receive voter approval at the November election in order to extend the tax until 2027.
After voters passed the county question in 2008, the fire department received $1.2 million, which was used to rebuild several fire trucks with re-plumbing and to buy new pumps and hoses. Funding was also provided to buy several water tenders.
According to the commissioners’ agenda report, during the past six years the fire department has purchased carbon fiber Scott Self Contained Breathing Apparatus cylinders and valves and an officer response vehicle. Furthermore, the fire department purchased and built two Type 6 fire trucks and upgraded radios from wide band to narrow band.
“Currently, Fallon Churchill Fire Department is refining truck specifications and working with vendors on a truck replacement,” the report added.
Although, there is no age requirement for ISO-rated equipment, the county said the equipment’s condition must meet a standard. Over the years as equipment ages, Dooley said it becomes more difficult to meet national standards because older parts are in limited supply.
“If older equipment breaks down like a truck, the parts are harder to get,” Dooley said, adding it could take upward to two weeks to receive the replacement part.
For the future, though, Dooley said the department will need to replace an engine and to re-plumb two existing engines. He added two trucks and two engines are currently 25 years old.
Because of equipment upgrades, the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department has maintained an ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of 1 out of 10 in the city since 1995, the top rating a department may receive. Dooley said most insurance carriers use the ISO rating to determine the quality of available fire protection and to establish insurance rates. Industry standards state a lower ISO number such as a 1 results in better rates for fire protection. He said a higher ISO rating could also result in Churchill County residents having a higher insurance premium for their dwellings.
“It takes work to get the ISO rating,” said Churchill County Commission Chairman Pete Olsen. “We want you to maintain that.”
The ISO evaluated more than 50,000 fire departments nationwide in 2019 with only 186 earning the Class 1 rating. Out of that number, about 40 consist of volunteer departments. Dooley explained the ISO 1 rating is determined by a third party who evaluates the fire department, community and current insurance rates.
Dooley said the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department was evaluated in September and October 2019 and received its recertification during a special presentation in January.
For example, he said the Fallon/ Churchill Volunteer Fire Department is the only volunteer agency that has a top ISO (Insurance Services Organization) rating for most of the area it covers. Although the city has an ISO 1 rating, Dooey said most of Churchill County has an ISO 3 rating because property is outside a 5-mile radius from a fire station.
If voters do not approve the ballot, the county said during the last initiative in 2014 the fire department could risk the elimination of programs or see reduced funding to purchase apparatus and other fire equipment.