Mills to Double

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rural fire districts want mills to double

By Billy Davis

Pointing to increased costs for diesel fuel and other expenditures, seven volunteer fire departments that serve rural Panola County are requesting that county government double their allotted millage rate.

Panola County’s current millage allots two mills for the county’s fire districts. Funds collected from that millage is distributed among the fire departments that serve the districts.  

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The Panola County Board of Supervisors has the authority to increase – or decrease – the millage for fire districts when the board sets the millage rate prior to a new fiscal year. The fiscal year begins October 1, and supervisors traditionally begin to entertain budget requests by mid-summer.

The millage requests came from volunteer departments in Pope, Cole’s Point, Bynum, Mt. Olivet Curtis-Locke Station, Sardis Lower Lake and Red Hill.

Daniel Cole, deputy director of Panola County Emergency Management, formally presented the requests last week at the supervisors First District meeting.

“I submitted seven requests, but I suspect there will be more,” Cole told The Panolian. The remaining fire districts are Longtown, Union and Pleasant Grove.

At Monday’s meeting, supervisors also heard a request from First Regional Library for 1.66 mills for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The current millage rate is 1.62 mills, and the formal letter from First Regional director Katherine Nelson requests 1.66 mills or “cash equivalent of $315,000.”

First Regional includes four branches in Panola County, and library staff from those branches crowded into the boardroom Monday and touted their services in Batesville, Sardis, Como and Crenshaw.

Unlike the library’s approach, the supervisors boardroom was not filled with firefighters and fire commissioners – yet.

Instead, fire commissioners used their letters to stress a financial strain.

“Due to the increased costs of fuel, equipment, etc., the Board of Commissioners of the Curtis-Locke Station Fire Department is asking that the millage rate be increased by 2 mills,” reads a letter from that department.

Because of the rising costs, “we just do not have the funds to keep up with today’s costs,” reads the letter from Cole’s Point.

“Without this increase it will be impossible to keep up with the programs we have in place,” Mt. Olivet commissioners wrote.

According to Cole, the volunteer fire departments have not requested millage increases “in six or seven years.”

“It’s been a while since we asked for an increase,” said Pope Fire Chief John McCollum.

The price of diesel fuel is hurting Pope and other fire departments, McCollum said, but costs for insurance, utilities, parts and firefighting equipment are also rising, he said.

The price for a gallon of diesel has probably risen by $1.50 over last summer, estimated Pope fire commissioner Jerry Cranford.

“The volunteers are spending their own money to respond to calls, and that’s getting tougher when they’re already spending their own money to volunteer,” said Cranford.

Cranford also pointed out that many rural fire departments are staffed with medical personnel, such as EMTs and paramedics, and are also responding to medical calls.