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GARFIELD -- Fire Chief Rob Taylor and the Northeast Benton County Volunteer Fire Department board of directors hosted the second of two town hall meetings last week to present information and answer questions about a special election asking for an increase in dues.

Taylor said the fire and ambulance departments are separated yet work together. He said the dues increase would allow the department to provide two positions for firefighters who could work in the station to provide quicker response times for the Fire Department.

Appraised value^Annual dues

Current fire dues

$0-99,999^$40

$100,000-299,999^$75

$300,000+^$120

Proposed fire dues

$0-99,999^$84

$100,000-299,999^$154

$300,000+^$244

People in attendance asked about Insurance Services Offices (ISO) ratings which are a 5 now in the NEBCO district, according to Taylor, who said response time and water supply are two factors used to determine the rating. Having two people in the office will increase response time.

Melvin Schoonover asked whether passage of the vote required a simple majority of the number of registered voters or of those voting.

"Those who vote," Dean Adair, NEBCO Board chairman, said.

Julie Bland, clerk, said 4,000 flyers were sent by mail to all residents in the NEBCO district.

"There seems to be a lack of participation," Schoonover said.

"I totally agree with you," Taylor said. "We're doing everything we can."

Adair said he had spoken about the election and NEBCO's need at churches, at the Lost Bridge Village meeting, to the Hobbits sewing group and "to anyone willing to listen" as well as to "the mayor's board meeting."

Garfield Mayor Gary Blackburn was in attendance and as the end of the meeting time neared, said: "I had some opposing views. I request time to speak before everyone gets up and leaves."

J.L. Wright expressed concern for past offenses of NEBCO including not buying fuel from his convenience store and someone driving a fire truck irresponsibly.

Taylor apologized to Wright, assured him the person who drove carelessly was no longer on the department. He said he does not allow red lights and sirens on personal vehicles. About the fuel purchases, he said he doesn't dictate where drivers buy fuel but would be glad to discuss that issue. "We try to be fiscally responsible."

"We should be more fair to the businesses in the community," Taylor said. "That's the right thing to do."

One man in the audience asked Taylor whether he was getting ready to retire and if the proceeds from the dues increase would be used to hire a full-time chief.

"That's not part of this," Taylor said. "We've got other needs other than me being out here full time. I work 48/96 so I spend those four days off right here. I enjoy doing what I do.

"I don't intend to leave Rogers for a few more years," Taylor said. "Our biggest priority is to get those two people on here 24 hours a day."

He said the timing of the election was recommended by the Election Commission so dues could get on the tax bills for 2019 and income would not come to NEBCO until 2020.

"We live in Lost Bridge Village," one man said. "Personally, I think your rates have been a real bargain."

"We work very hard to keep that way," Taylor said, adding "I've lived here my whole life.

"We'll continue to operate this way. I don't enjoy asking for money but it's part of my job. We get no tax money or assistance from county (other than buy fire truck occasionally)."

Blackburn asked whether he would get a bill for 30 acres he owns that does not have a structure on it.

Mary Conner, sitting near the mayor, asked him "If it catches on fire, do you want them to come fight your fire?"

"Be quiet, I'm talking to the board," Blackburn said to Connor.

Blackburn said the city also received a bill for a well house previously owned by the city that was sold.

"I got a bill for $40 that was mailed form Garfield, for dues for that piece of property," he said. "I've been mayor for five years ... I don't accept that you've done it that way for 20 years."

Reading from the ballot, Blackburn said the question said dues were "on each residence or each business having an occupiable structure... "

"This says nothing about a piece of property that doesn't have an occupiable structure on it and I've been telling you guys that for the past two weeks," Blackburn continued.

Connor said: "I've got a vacant lot next to my house, if it catches on fire, I'm going to call 911."

Connor asked the board why the proposal is just to add to positions.

"We had to start somewhere," Adair said.

Taylor said that records show NEBCO averages 3.5 firefighters per call.

Adair said the best scenario would be a minimum of seven firefighters on each all.

Fire Capt. Zach Oldebeken, a firefighter with both NEBCO and Rogers, said 21 firefighters respond to fire calls in Rogers.

"Someone suggested we pay half a million to pay the volunteers," Taylor said, referring to a document by the Garfield mayor that proposed paying half of all firefighting staff and creating a full-time chief position. Blackburn also recommended paying board members, who now volunteer. "I don't think our community is ready for that. That's a huge amount of money for us."

Blackburn left before the meeting ended without presenting his "opposing view" which was published in The TIMES last week.

Editorial on 07/03/2019

Print Headline: NEBCO voters asked to increase fire dues

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