Double taxes for fire protection averted

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By Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Each of the seven volunteer fire departments in Lee County affected by Tupelo’s 2012 annexation has agreed to relinquish taxes from residents, effectively ending threats of “double taxation” for fire services.

The Lee County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed Monday to accept a request from commissions of each VFD with territory within recently annexed areas now in Tupelo.

This avoids potential for more than 3,000 new city residents paying taxes to volunteer fire departments. Residents of the annexed areas have paid four mills to the volunteer fire departments, which amounted to $63,085 in 2012.

The tax bills due in February would have been the first year residents could have been charged twice for fire protection.

The most taxes from the annexed area went to Unity Volunteer Fire Department, $28,691, followed by Belden Volunteer Fire Department, $23,606.

With commissions from the volunteer fire departments only recently releasing four mills assessed to residents living in the annexed areas, the newly annexed Tupelo residents and commercial properties have often had fire responses from both volunteer fire departments and the Tupelo Fire Department.

Efforts to remove the tax assessment intensified in recent weeks as the deadline loomed for tax bills to be mailed to residents. Lee County supervisors could not directly remove the tax on affected residents, a power reserved to the volunteer fire department commissions.

Supervisor Phil Morgan of the 1st District, who represents most annexed Tupelo residents, said he felt relieved for taxpayers to end concerns of essentially paying twice for fire services.

“That’s behind us,” he said. “We’ve got other fires to put out now.”

Lee County administrator Sean Thompson said he received verbal and written agreements from the volunteer fire departments to cede the taxes.

“At this point, I’m considering all of them formally ceded,” Thompson said after the supervisors meeting.

County leaders asked for a one-time concession payment from Tupelo taxpayers to offset tax revenue lost, a request the city is under no obligation to meet. City Council member Buddy Palmer, one of the newly annexed city residents, said he’s sympathetic to the request but won’t press it with fellow council members.

“I’ve always said the city’s open for discussions,” he said. “But I’m not going to instigate it.”

Palmer plans to coordinate two city meetings with annexed residents at dates yet determined to allow them to hear from city officials about services offered, including dates they can expect to receive them, and to learn more about zoning and code enforcement in the city.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com