County’s method for funding fire dept. to change

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Coweta County is considering major changes to the way it funds the Coweta County Fire Department.

Currently, fire department operations are funded with a 2.5 mill property tax on properties in the Coweta County Fire Protection District, which was created in 1974. By state law, the millage rate for the fire district is capped at 2.5 mills.

However, the 2.5 mills hasn’t always provided enough money to properly fund the department. This year, the county supplemented fire department operations out of the general fund, and is set to do the same for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1.

Because of annexations over the years by the cities of Newnan and Palmetto, some properties that are currently in the city limits are still in the fire district, and are taxed for the operations of the Coweta County Fire Department even though they are served by their city departments.

But that is likely to change. The Coweta County Board of Commissioners is set to vote Tuesday to stop levying taxes on the old fire district, and to instead use a new fire district, which was created in 2008. The item will be on the agenda for Tuesday’s commission meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

The new fire district was created when Coweta County issued $20 million in bonds to pay for new equipment and capital upgrades for the fire department. The bonds have paid for new stations and fire engines, but don’t help with operational costs. The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax also helps pay for equipment and capital improvements.

A millage rate is set each year on the new fire district to repay the bonds. The county is considering using the new district to fund operations, as well. Whereas the old district has the 2.5 mill cap, there is no set maximum for the new district.

The current proposal is to set a fire department operational millage of 3.08 mills in the new fire district. That will allow Coweta County to collect the same amount of revenue as would be collected in the old district at the 2.5 mill rate.

The bond repayment millage rate is proposed at 0.42, down from the 0.49 set last summer.

With the reduction in the bond millage rate, the net increase for residents in the new fire district will be 0.51 mills. That’s approximately $25.50 a year, for a $150,000 home with a homestead exemption, according to Coweta Assistant County Administrator Kelly Mickle.

Because the new fire district was created by a resolution of the county commission, there isn’t a requirement to have a public hearing on the tax increase or to advertise the five-year history, according to County Administrator Michael Fouts.

The main reason for the proposed change is to align the fire district with the current municipal boundaries, Fouts said. The change will also give the county the opportunity to provide increased operational funding for the fire department, without the 2.5 mill cap. However, “that is not the primary purpose” for the change, Fouts said.

The towns of Turin, Moreland, and Sharpsburg are a part of the new fire district by resolution, while Senoia, Grantville and Haralson are a part of the district by contract. The Senoia, Grantville, and Haralson councils will need to approve the changes.

Eventually, the plan is to dissolve the old fire district, Fouts said. “We believe it can be dissolved, by resolution, at a future date, and we plan to do that,” he said. However, he said more research needs to be done to make sure that it only takes a resolution to dissolve the district.

An amendment to the state constitution in the 1960s allowed for the creation of the district, and state law capped the millage rate. The Coweta County Commissioners then passed a resolution to create the district in the 1970s, and a referendum was held in 1974 to begin levying taxes in the fire district.

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