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Tax increases to aid fire departments, roads

Commissioners have not hidden the fact that the Pike County budget has undergone its hard ships in the last year, particularly in the county road department.

But what may have been a little more hidden is that volunteer fire departments in the county have, as well.

In efforts to ease those burdens, the two entities are coming together — perhaps at an expense to the people of Pike County.

The commission approved last week to send a request to the Alabama Legislature, asking to increase the property taxes on residents outside the city limits by 2 mills.

Before anything is final, the request would come before those same residents in the June 2010 election for a stamp of approval.

In perspective, someone with a property worth $100,000 outside the Troy city limits is now paying $370 in ad valorem taxes, said Revenue Commissioner Curtis Blair.

Those 2 mills would add around $20 more to the bill.

But Ray Armstrong, chief of the Springhill Volunteer Fire Department and treasurer of the Pike County Fire Fighters Association, said the benefits of having local fire departments would outweigh the costs.

Currently, the nine volunteer fire departments in the county — Banks, Brundidge, Saco, Meeksville, Pike County Fire and Rescue, Goshen, Henderson, Hamilton Crossroads and Springhill — are only funded through tobacco tax revenues and their own fundraisers.

Armstrong said the tobacco taxes fund each department an average of $13,000 each year, but it’s still not enough.

“If we had to depend on the tobacco tax right now, we’d have to shut our doors,” Armstrong said. “If it wasn’t for fundraisers we do, we’d have to shut down because we couldn’t pay our bills.”

If the tax is passed, the revenues generated from one mill will go to the volunteer fire departments and the other to the county commission for the road department and debt reduction.

Commission Chairman Jimmy Barron said the tax would be a big help to the road department, which is looking at the prospect of selling more equipment to stay afloat.

“We’ve got to maintain our roads and bridges for the safety of people in Pike County,” Barron said, in a previous article in The Messenger.

Blair said each of these mills will likely generate around $100,000 to $150,000 each.

The tax was proposed by the fire fighters association and has been in discussion for the last two years.

“You always want more, but that will be a fairly good compromise for us and the county,” Armstrong said. “The county needs money, and we need some money, too.”

Armstrong said the fire departments would use it to pay for equipment purchases, most likely.

“It’s very expensive to operate the department,” Armstrong said.

Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, said he would be the one to present the bill initially to the Legislature. If passed, Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would then carry it before the Senate for another vote.

Boothe said it is he and Mitchell’s policies to take bills to the Legislature as long as they have been unanimously approved at a local level.

Booth also said he anticipates this bill will go for a vote in this next session.