Polk County looks to put a fire plan in place if commission approves
Polk County residents who have seen a big increase in their homeowners insurance due to an increase in the Insurance Service Organization rating for fire protection will have a chance at some relief thanks to a new plan being put before the Board of Commissioners.
A plan that has been in the works for months between County Manager Matt Denton and Public Safety Director Randy Lacey will look to provide round the clock fire protection for county residents, but property owners from the smallest plot to the biggest industry will have to help pay for that protection.
Denton and Lacey presented the plan during the county’s Public Safety committee meeting on Sept. 29, and then to the full board after press time during their Oct. 3 work session and the Oct. 4 full meeting.
Commissioners will get to
vote on whether to put into place a plan that will put a firefighter in seven out of nine stations in Polk County 24 hours a day, with both full time and part time hires planned to make the coverage plan work.
Part time firefighrers would be in every station throughout the week for 12 hours a day, and three new battalion chiefs would also have to be hired.
Lacey and Denton said the fire department would also need to employ a part time training captain as well.
The overall plan would allow for the decrease of response time, Lacey said, and also ensure that firefighters are arriving at emergency scenes without long waits for equipment or volunteers to arrive.
It would also eventually require a consolidation of the current nine stations and remodeling or new stations in the future, Lacey said.
The kicker, Denton said, would be the need to add a fee to property tax bills in Polk County.
These fees wouldn’t be due on the current year’s bills, which went out in September, but would be added to the 2017 tax bills next year if the plan is approved by the board.
A sliding scale – set based on what kind of property is being protected, not on how large it is – will be set in place to pay for the nearly $1.9 million bill to start the program.
“On average, we’d assess fees around $135 a year per parcel,” Denton said.
Homeowners are expected to pay much less than that per year on the new fees, since commercial and industrial properties are also being included in the average for the fees.
Commissioners are getting to vote on the plan in part to start working toward getting a grant to help pay for newly hired firefighters for the first two years they are on the job.
Previously, fire plans have been put before voters to choose whether to start a paid fire department, but they have failed in narrow negative majorities.