Lee County VFD reveals it won’t double tax residents

I'm a journalist focused on government, policy, politics and people.
I find what matters and bird dog it like nobody's business.

djournal-lee-countyBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The first Lee County volunteer fire department has informally notified county leaders of intent to release taxes levied on Tupelo residents annexed in 2012, a late effort to avoid “double taxation.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court approved Tupelo’s annexation request a year ago, but only five-member commissions for each of the seven volunteer fire departments impacted can remove 4 mills assessed to new city residents who will begin paying for Tupelo Fire Department services for 2013 taxes due in February.

Lee County Supervisor Phil Morgan of District 1 told the Daily Journal on Wednesday that a commissioner for the Unity Volunteer Fire Department “assured me that he’d have a letter on my desk by the next board meeting ceding that taxation to city of Tupelo.”

Among the VFDs impacted by the Tupelo annexation that added about 2,500 new city residents, Unity Volunteer Fire Department stands to lose the most from releasing the taxes, $28,691, which amounts to 49 percent of the department’s annual budget.

Altogether, the volunteer fire departments will lose $63,085 annually, an average loss of 17.2 percent per department. County supervisors and volunteer fire officials say losing the roughly 16 square miles gives the departments less area to cover, but they still need resources to pay for equipment and other costs and have asked the city for a one-time “concession” payment to help lessen the blow of lost revenue.

The Belden Volunteer Fire Department, which stands to lose 43.1 percent of its annual budget by releasing taxes assessed to annexed residents, financed a fire truck in 2006 and still owes $46,000 on it.

Tupelo has no legal requirement to compensate volunteer fire departments any money.

Tupelo City Councilman Buddy Palmer, who lives in the part of the county annexed, said the first priority should be removing the taxes paid to the volunteer fire departments as soon as possible to ensure no city resident pays twice for the same service.

“Taxpayers need to be the first priority,” Palmer said.

Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson said he had not heard from any other VFD indicating intentions to release taxes on the annexed residents.

Thompson has said the fire department taxes must be relinquished by early December to avoid them appearing on tax bills sent out shortly thereafter.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com