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COUNTY: Fire and solid waste rates to increase

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Madison County residents will be paying more for fire protection and solid waste treatment this coming year.

During the final public hearing concerning the special assessments on Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Madison County Board of County Commissioners voted to increase both the fire assessment and the solid waste assessment for the next fiscal year (FY).

At the beginning of the meeting, Madison County Solid Waste Coordinator Jerome Wyche spoke about the Solid Waste Department and the improvements that have been made over the past years. Because of the improvements that have been implemented over the last several years, Madison County “has set the benchmark of efficiency and has been described as the model to be duplicated.”

Among the goals for the Solid Waste Department for the coming FY2017-2018 include the continuation of professional services to the citizens of Madison County, expanding solid waste collection to businesses, upgrading collection sites for improved citizen usage, maintaining high profile vehicle lease options, providing mobile maintenance for county-owned properties and improving the quality of life for employees of the department.

A comparison of the amounts of solid waste handled by the department shows an increase over FY2015-2016. In FY2015-2016, the department processed 4,844.2 tons of solid waste; compared to 5,306 tons so far in FY2016-2017. This increase in activity along with an aging fleet of vehicles and the addition of inmate work crews from the Department of Corrections has made it necessary to seek an increase in the solid waste assessment. Based on a six-year study by Government Services Group, the Commissioners could pass a maximum assessment of $237 per household.

There was some public comment from people at the hearing. Debbie Knighton addressed the Commissioners saying that the Solid Waste Department is “doing nothing for us,” because people have to transport their trash to one of the collection sites instead of having the department provide curb-side solid waste pick-up service. Knighton said she felt the assessment was out-of-line with the level of service provided. Wyche responded by saying that curb-side pick-up service could be provided but in a rural area such as Madison County it would simply be cost prohibitive.

The Commissioners voted unanimously to set the solid waste assessment at $220, which is an increase of $16 over the current level of $194. This works out to be an increase of approximately $0.07 per day.

Madison County Coordinator Brian Kauffman spoke about the proposed fire assessment. There had previously been a great deal of discussion at other public hearings regarding the fire assessment. Currently, the local fire assessment is set at $25 per dwelling unit for residential properties. Commercial properties are assessed on a square footage basis. Because agricultural properties are no longer subject to the fire assessment, this left the local commissioners with $71,444 that would have to be made up, simply to stay at current funding levels for fire protection. This means that an increase of $11 would have to be made just to stay at current levels.

In discussions with members of the volunteer fire departments around the county, it was determined that much needed to be done in order to assist these departments with training, equipment, etc. One proposal has been the addition of a Fire Coordinator to help with the coordination of the various fire departments. It is hoped that a paid Fire Coordinator will be able to bring in grant monies, which would help with much needed equipment, training, etc. A motion was made and seconded to raise the fire assessment to the maximum amount of $78 per dwelling unit for residential properties. Non-residential properties would be assessed as follows (with a 97,000 square foot cap): Commercial $0.04 per square foot, Institutional $0.03 per square foot and Industrial/Warehouse $0.06 per square foot. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Rick Davis casting the dissenting vote. Later, Commissioner Davis told Greene Publishing, Inc. that his opposition was not in increasing the fire assessment; he understood that was a necessity.  Davis' opposition was in increasing it to the maximum amount right off the bat. According to Davis, the rate can be readdressed before the next fiscal year. It could be brought back down, but it cannot be raised above that maximum of $78 without conducting another study.

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