NORTHEAST BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA) — The volunteer Northeast Benton County Fire-EMS department is looking to increase fire service dues, and the fire chief said the increase is badly needed and long overdue.
Early voting began this week on whether dues community members pay for fire services should be raised. Early voting continues Monday and normal voting will be held Tuesday.
The current fire dues were established almost 20 years ago, Fire Chief Rob Taylor said.
“I don’t know how any fire department can be expected to operate off of a dues system that was set up 20 years ago,” Taylor said. “The cost continues to go up for everything, whether it be the cost of operations, fuel we have to buy for the trucks or insurance for the department. It’s finally come to that time where we have to have an increase.”
Residents of Northeast Benton County are divided into the following three tiers of annual fire service dues:
- $40 a year for residents who have property valued between zero and $99,999.
- $75 a year for residents who have property valued between $100,000 and $299,999.
- $125 a year for residents who have property valued at $300,000 or more.
NEBCO Fire-EMS is asking residents to approve raising $40 dues to $84, $75 to $154 and $125 to $244.
Taylor said current fire dues generate $162,000-165,000 annually. He said the increase will bring in an additional $195,000. He said the money is badly needed to hire two firefighters, as well as maintain or replace equipment that is wearing out or needs to be replaced.
Currently, the fire department has 23 firefighters, all of whom are volunteers. Taylor said he’s the only member of the Fire Department who’s paid, but he’s compensated on a part-time basis.
“None of the firemen get paid,” Taylor said. “They get a small reimbursement stipend once a year as all volunteer firefighters do for wear and tear on vehicles and use of cell phones.”
Volunteers are not readily available to fight fires during certain times of the day because they have jobs. Hiring two firefighters would enable the department to have firefighters during times when volunteers are preoccupied with work.
“It’s just going to take some work to find out when the need is really there,” Taylor said. “Right now, it’s primarily during the week when my main core of volunteers is at work and not able to respond to calls.”
Getting new equipment is costly, essential and a major reason why a due increase is needed, Taylor said.
Self-contained breathing apparatus bottles are an example of such equipment. Each bottle costs $500-600, according to Taylor.
“Those need to be replaced every 15 years, and it’s time for those to start being replaced,” Taylor said.
Also, the Fire Department provides a variety of services beyond fighting fires, each of which requires money to do. Services vary from responding to accidents to swift water rescues, Taylor said.
“When someone’s trapped in a wreck, it’s us who extricates the person who is trapped,” Taylor said. “All of that costs money.”
Taylor said he wants the community members he protects and serves to understand that the dues increase is necessary.
“I understand it’s a lot of money. Nobody wants to pay more dues or taxes or anything else, but it costs money to have (an emergency) service, to provide a reliable fire-EMS service,” he said.
Early voting continues at the NEBCO Community Center Monday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday’s voting hours will be from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.