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Fire district seeks fairness in proposed tax increase

The proposed tax rate increase for the West County EMS and Fire Protection District’s general fund won’t directly affect those who receive the district’s services under contract. But the district wants to find a funding solution that is “fair” to taxpayers, as well as those served under contract.

In terms of area and population, Town & Country is the largest entity that West County serves under contract. This year, the community will pay the district almost $3.37 million for fire and emergency medical services. More than $2 million of that total will go into the general fund, with the remainder going into the ambulance and pension funds.

The West County board late last month approved a proposal for a general fund tax levy increase of 30 cents per $100 assessed valuation on real estate and personal property. The issue will be submitted to voters April 7.

David Cobb, West County’s board chairman, said preliminary discussions have been held with Town & Country but no agreement has been reached on how a tax increase paid by others in the district will affect the amount paid by the city under its contract. That agreement extends through the end of next year and isn’t affected by the tax increase proposal presented to other voters in the district.

“Our goal is simply to be fair to everyone,” Cobb stated.

West County’s general fund tax rate of 42.8 cents per $100 assessed valuation on residential real estate is the largest of five levies totaling just over 96 cents. Other levies are for ambulance, pension, dispatch and debt service, and those funds are not affected by the proposed increase.

The 30 cents to be voted on represents a 31 percent increase in West County’s overall residential property tax rate. The current total levy on personal property would increase from $1 to $1.30, a 30 percent hike.

West County officials say district real estate values have remained flat in recent years and income from the current tax levy has not kept pace with rising costs, causing the district to dip into its reserves to make up the shortfall.

If the tax increase is approved, plans also call for more community outreach efforts, increased training and a raise for firefighter-paramedics, whose pay scale hasn’t changed for several years.

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