OUR OPINION: Fire protection tax issue resolved with fair action

Commissioners of seven Lee County volunteer fire departments who lost taxed coverage area to the city of Tupelo in a 2012 annexation voluntarily relinquished tax revenue from the annexed areas on Monday to avoid double-taxing property owners taken into the annexed areas.

The issue, which had been contentious, was resolved when commissioners of the seven volunteer fire departments, acting for each department individually, relinquished a four-mill tax that had been levied by the Lee County Board of Supervisors in support of the departments. The supervisors accepted the action of the commissioners at the board’s Monday meeting.

Most residents of the annexed areas understandably did not want a double tax, even though the service record of the volunteer fire departments has been outstanding for decades.

The $63,085 in revenue VFDs lost with the relinquished millage will be recovered in some amount by the city’s regular ad valorem tax levy, which supports the Tupelo Fire Department and other city services. Tupelo does not have a special millage levy for its fire department.

Had the taxes not been nullified, the property owners among the 3,000 people taken into the city in the annexation faced paying a property tax levy to the city and a four-mill levy to the VFDs.

Two of the VFDs affected were hit particularly hard by the loss of tax revenue:

• Belden lost $23,606, 43.1 percent of its $54,772 annual budget.

• Unity lost $28,691, 49 percent of its annual $58,550 budget.

Birmingham Ridge, Plantersville, Mooreville-Eggville, Palmetto-Old Union and Verona also lost revenue, but in sum and proportionately less.

“At this point, I’m considering all of them formally ceded,” Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson said after the supervisors meeting in a conversation with Daily Journal reporter Robbie Ward.

Growth in unincorporated areas of Lee County and in the county’s other municipalities obviously calls for an evaluation of fire protection adequacy. The volunteer fire departments are on call 24/7, and they will be more pressed for adequate equipment and volunteers as their coverage area grows with new construction and additional residents. The same is true for the smaller municipalities.

Tupelo similarly will need to evaluate its fire protection needs with the annexation, and also look to routine cooperation as needed with the VFDs across the county.

  • Beauregard Rippy

    All that should have been decided BEFORE annexation.