City Fire truck

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Second new fire truck needs to be in city budget

Batesville’s mayor and aldermen should during the budget process that they will continue in today’s meeting authorize the purchase of a second new fire engine this year. That will allow Batesville’s fire insurance rating to remain at Class 6 while its fire department continues to respond to calls outside city limits.


Two Batesville Fire Department pumpers have reached an age that renders them obsolete from the point of view of the Mississippi State Insurance Rating Bureau. The mayor and aldermen have ordered the one new truck that will be sufficient if the fire department restricts its responses to alarms only within city limits.

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The Rating Bureau requires replacement of the second obsolete pumper if city fire fighters are to continue responding to fire calls outside city limits. They see it simply as matter of coverage. If the first pumper with its personnel have left city limits to respond to a call in the county, the manpower and equipment remaining in town are insufficient to provide adequate fire protection within city limits.

The problem

Supervisors have offered to pay $109,500 toward the cost of the truck, estimated at $289,000. City officials have taken the position that since the Rating Bureau has required the second truck on the basis of the number of outside-the-city structure fires to which Batesville fire fighters respond, the county should pay the entire cost of the second truck.

“You do have people out there who’re getting the benefit of it (fire protection) without paying for it,” one city official stated during an April meeting.

But that’s only half true.

Obviously people who live outside Batesville city limits pay none of the city property taxes that help fund the operations of city government, including the Batesville Fire Department. However by the end of the fiscal year 2012 that ended June 30, Batesville had received over $3.8 million as its share of sales taxes collected from the sale of taxable goods and services within the Batesville city limits. Further, during the same year, Batesville collected $1,077,815 in tourism taxes on food, beverages and lodging expenditures within city limits.

Where did it come from?

Certainly many out-of-town visitors use our hotels, motels and buy food and drinks in our restaurants. So do many city residents.

But we can  also be sure that some substantial portion of the almost $5 million in sales and tourism taxes that went into the Batesville treasury to help fund operations of city government, including the fire department, came from people who live nearby, but outside city limits. If sales and tourist taxes were collected only from the 8,000 or so people who live inside city limits, Batesville would have substantially less than $5 million.

Most adversely affected

Further, it is reasonable to assume that the closer county residents live to the city limits of Batesville, the more likely they are to shop more often in town and the more  sales tax they pay. And it is those same residents — those who live close to, but just outside, city limits — who are most likely to be adversely impacted if Batesville’s fire department is prohibited from answering out-of-city calls.

The adverse impact will consist of response times reduced both because the next available fire responders might have to come from a more distant station and because Batesville has the only full-time, paid firefighters who are immediately available, especially during daytime hours when many volunteer fire fighters are working at their regular jobs and not available for fire duty.

Fire insurance rates

Another adverse impact for homeowners living in areas adjacent to city limits could be a rise in fire insurance premiums. For instance, the owner of a brick home could see an annual fire insurance increase, without regard to proximity to any fire station, from $1,380 for a masonry construction home with a current Class 6 fire rating to $2,355 if the home falls in a Class 9 fire district, according to the Mississippi State Rating Bureau.

So a decision by Batesville’s mayor and board of aldermen to end fire protection outside city limits could arbitrarily punish worst those whose purchases and patronage provide substantial support for city businesses and institutions.

Spitting contest

This impasse came about at the first of the year when mayor and board of aldermen got into a somewhat of a spitting contest with the supervisors and county administrator. City elected officials have since dug in their heels and resisted authorizing the second fire truck purchase. It is doubtful that their constituents — the voters in Batesville city limits — feel that way, not when the significant contribution paid in sales tax by everyone who shops here is considered.

These words are, of course, about more than buying another new fire truck. They are about community.

Batesville city limits are political lines established by surveyor’s metes and bounds descriptions, but Batesville community limits extend far outside those municipal boundaries.
Feet voting constituency

This city has been fortunate to have become an economic engine that powers much of the Panola County economy. City government has helped to stimulate that economic engine while reaping a significant return from its momentum.

To recognize that part of the return comes from sales tax paid by people, “voting with their feet” — who solidly support everything that goes on here even though they don’t live inside city limits — will reinforce both our sense of community and the perception that the statesmanship so sorely lacking at most levels of government remains a governing principle among Batesville’s elected officials.