Firefighters Funding Tax Levy Placed On November Ballot

Smith County commissioners are placing a tax levy proposal on the November ballot that would fund volunteer fire departments, to help better equip them. And in the long run it would lower your homeowner's insurance.

Eleven volunteer fire departments in Smith County would make up Emergency Services District No. 2.  If approved by voters, homeowners can expect to pay about $50 more per year on a home valued at $100,000. A home worth $150,000 would cost $75.

"This will allow them to increase their equipment, the training of personnel and eventually, over a period of time it would be able to lower the homeowner's insurance rates," said Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton.

Officials say homeowners could expect to save between $200 and $400 a year on their homeowner's insurance rate. Your insurance costs is determined by how a volunteer fire department rates with the Insurance Services Organization. The I.S.O.'s scale runs from one to 10.   One is the best, 10 the worst.

Red Springs Volunteer Fire Department, one of the smallest in the county, has a rating of nine, just one away from the bottom. "It'll be a great, great help in purchasing equipment, where we've been having to build our trucks, we can buy the factory equipment now that does meet the ISO rating and it'll be a great help," said Red Springs V.F.D. Fire Chief Charles Wilson.

Red Springs has seven vehicles in its department. Five of them are 20 years or older. Chief Wilson says they face a lot of maintenance problems because of that and with this new funding they would be able to buy better equipment to better serve area residents.

"Lower homeowner's insurance rates and commercial insurances is not going to happen overnight. Like I said, it's going to take a period of time for this to happen," said Seaton. Seaton says it would take a couple of years before volunteer fire departments can begin to see the improvements from the tax levy. For homeowners, lower insurance rates would come a little further down the road up to five years later.

If approved by voters, taxes would begin being assessed January 1st. Lindale has had an Emergency Services District in place since 1996. Officials there say the funding has helped their rating go from a seven to a four.

Every department in Smith County is included in Emergency Services District No. 2, except for Lindale, the City of Tyler, the City of Whitehouse and Overton. Tyler has a municipal department. Whitehouse and Overton say the city funds its volunteer fire departments.

Oralia Ortega, Reporting.