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Tax could rescue volunteer departments

This month marks one year since the county began receiving revenue from last year’s half percent hike in the local sales tax.

Tuesday, September 07, 1999

This month marks one year since the county began receiving revenue from last year’s half percent hike in the local sales tax.

Although no final one-year collection numbers were available this week, county officials said the tax revenue’s funding of 911, EMS and the Emergency Management Agency works and could boost other emergency agencies’ budgets in the future.

"We really need to see what effect Cabletron and other businesses (shutting down) might have before we can put forth a solid number," commission president Bruce Trent said.

But the possibility exists for extra revenue to hit volunteer fire department budgets or to help the county firefighters’ association keep equipment upgraded, Trent said.

Commissioner George Patterson said the county must remain conservative with its funding, and make sure current 911, EMS and EMA services are funded first.

"With the sales tax, we definitely have to make sure 911, EMS and EMA are solvent and then I would think we could see what else could be done," Patterson said. "The volunteers are one of the best services in the county."

The county still would have to consider whether or not it was in a position to help all fire departments, he said.

Commissioners voted in the sales tax increase in June 1998 to ease the burden on the county’s general fund, already stretched too thin paying for services like 911 and EMS, they said.

Because 911, for instance, doesn’t bring revenue into the county, like some offices do through permits and service fees, it drains the county general fund, they said.

So, commissioners dropped two countywide EMS levies and enacted the extra half-percent in sales tax.

Commissioners dedicated the funds to 911, EMS and EMA only, by resolution, but they expected the tax revenue to increase as consumer spending increases.

If that revenue outpaces the need in 911 and EMS budgets, then the county could look for other emergency services areas to use the extra funds, Trent said.

"For instance, the fire departments wanted to send two people to rescue training recently," Trent said. "If the county didn’t have the money in other resources, that’s the type of assistance we could do."

And Elizabeth Township volunteers asked for help earlier this month with repairs to a tanker truck. Commissioners are still seeking grant help on that request.

The county must look at 911, EMS and EMA first, since funding those services was the primary focus of the extra sales tax money, Trent said.

"But we want to keep in mind that the volunteers (firefighters) make up one of the utmost services in this county," he said.

Patterson said commissioners have a "soft spot" for the departments because volunteers save lives and keep insurance rates down all over the county.

"We would have to see exact figures first," he said. "I think all the commissioners would consider it, if the money was there."

Trent said he would like to see an advisory committee formed.