Will LJ Fire District expand territory?

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30 words or less Residents not covered in a fire district may have to choose between a fire tax or higher insurance rates due to higher ISO ratings.

By Thomas Barr

 LEBANON JUNCTION - A stretch of property between the city of Lebanon Junction and the coverage area of the Southeast Bullitt Fire District has been called “no man’s land” for years.

Back in 1982, a small portion of Wilson Creek Road was properly formed into a fire protection district through fiscal court.

But, since then, fires fought outside the Lebanon Junction city limits in areas like Wilson Creek Road, Mount Carmel Road and Belmont has been done by the municipal fire department.

There is a movement to remove the “no man’s” status and to possibly save money on insurance rates, which are predicted to rise.

Bobby Hartlage, one of the organizers of a revised Lebanon Junction Fire Protection District, spoke with Bullitt Fiscal Court members recently.

County attorney Monica Robinson said from her work with the interested parties, the biggest concern is the pending ISO rating. Currently, Hartlage said Lebanon Junction has a rating of 5 and that includes property owners who are not actually in the corporate limits.

With changes in the ISO requirements, Hartlage said only those who live in the city would keep its current ISO ratings, on which insurance rates are often based.

If the ISO rating went to a 9 or 10 due to the lack of a fire department, Hartlage said insurance premiums could double.

To tackle the problem, Robinson said there are a couple of options to consider.

First, fiscal court could approve a change in the 1982 boundaries. The new boundaries would be much larger than the Wilson Creek Road area and would include everything not covered by Southeast Bullitt/Pine Creek Forest Fire Protection District or by the city of Lebanon Junction.

This would be the easiest way to address the issue, said Robinson.

Second, and more difficult, would be to do nothing and let the burden fall upon those interested in expanding the district.

Robinson said a petition signed by 25 percent of the registered voters in the proposed territory could be presented to fiscal court.

Fiscal court would not be allowed to deny the petition unless 51 percent of the registered voters in the territory show up to protest the matter.

If the district is formed, Robinson said there is still nothing certain about the entity.

She said it would take a year to begin seeing any real property taxes from the area. Personal property taxes on motor vehicles would start being received earlier than that.

Robinson also said there was no guarantee that any ISO changes would occur for a year or two.

ISO ratings are based upon a number of factors, including the proximity of firehouses, the number of firefighters, the type of equipment and the availability of fire hydrants and water supply.

Hartlage said that the district would have to build firehouses and purchase equipment. It would also have the option of contracting with other fire departments to provide protection.

Robinson said the city residents of Lebanon Junction would not be affected. The fire tax would not be imposed in Lebanon Junction.

Magistrate John Bradshaw said the challenge of those organizing the expanded district would be to convince residents that the imposition of a fire tax would be more than offset by the savings on homeowners insurance due to ISO ratings.

Magistrate Bob Hunt, who has sold insurance previously, said that there would be a savings with the creation of a fire district and lower ISO ratings.

Robinson made sure that the public understood that fiscal court could not guarantee those lower rates would become reality. She encouraged fiscal court to have some insurance agents present to talk about this at any future meeting.

Bradshaw said he would rather see the organizers go the petition route. He didn’t know if the people would favor creating a fire district and add another tax to their bill.

Without more feedback, Bradshaw said he was not in favor of moving forward at that particular meeting.

The matter was tabled due to the complexity of the issue. No public hearing was set at this point.

Under a fire tax district, state law allows for rates of up to 10 cents per $100 of assessed value. There is no public recall.

If a person owned a $100,000 piece of property, the fire tax would be an additional $100 per year, if the rate were set at 10 cents.

A board would have to be formed and it would set the tax rates. Bills would be sent out with the county’s tax bills in September of each year.