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Some residents inflamed over Beaver Lake fire fees

by Tracy Neal | August 8, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
Beaver Lake Fire Department calls for a recovery team for a possible drowning at Beaver Lake off of Old Prairie Creek Road.

Some residents who live in a proposed Beaver Lake Fire District object to the proposal that could increase the dues they pay for fire protection.

John Whisenant, Beaver Lake Fire Department chief, filed a petition with the Benton County Clerk's Office on July 6 with the intent to establish a fire district.

Sheila Gallagher, who lives in the Prairie Creek area, said she pays $150 per year or $12.50 a month to the fire department. She spoke out against the proposal at the July 28 Quorum Court meeting. If a fire district is established, residents will have to pay based on the appraised value of their homes, Gallagher said.

Each resident now pays $150 per year, but he believes it isn't an equitable system, Whisenant said.

Prairie Creek Marina has millions dollars worth of items on its property, but pays $150 per year for fire protection, he said. It's the same as someone who owns a 700-square-foot trailer house, he said.

The petition describes the boundaries of the proposed district and sets the maximum levy at 0.325% of the property's appraised value as determined by the county assessor, according to the fire department's Facebook page.

If a house is assessed at $100,000 the owner will have to pay $325 for fire dues and $650 if the home is assessed at $200,000, Gallagher said. Her payments will go up to $54 per month if a fire district is established, she said.

The department's board voted last August to pursue a fire district to fund the department, Whisenant said. The driving force for the change is a growing service demand on the department, he said. The department responds to more than 1,000 calls per year.

"That's more than four of the staffed fire stations in Rogers," he said.

Voters approved in 2017 an increase in the annual fire due from $75 to $150, and Whisenant said it was clear then the department would seek other funding opportunities.

A door-to-door campaign started June 4 to gathers signatures. They contacted 500 people and 475 of them signed the petitions, Whisenant said. There are 4,025 registered voters who live in the area the department serves. Whisenant said they needed 10% of the registered voters to sign the petition.

The department serves the areas between Dream Valley Road to Hooper Road along Arkansas 12, and Ozark Ridge, east along Pleasant Ridge Road, Whisenant said.

George Spence, county attorney, explained the law to the justices of peace at the July Quorum Court meeting. After a petition is certified, the Quorum Court must hold a couple of public hearings, the first within 60 days, he said.

If the justices of the peace adopt an ordinance to set up a fire district, it triggers a process where the court has to hold another hearing in the district within 60 to 90 days, Spence said.

If more than 50% of the residents at the second hearing oppose the district, it will invalidate the ordinance setting up the district, he said. The ordinance stays in place if 50% of attendees agree with it, he said.

The justices of peace can decide at the second meeting whether the majority of people at the meeting oppose or favor the ordinance by polling those in attendance, or opponents can circulate their own petition.

Spence said it's an odd statute because it allows voters "to get a petition at 10% and then you have to get 50% to beat it," he said.

He said the 0.325 rate is the maximum, but it could be lower. He said maximum rate is required to be put on the petition.

Whisenant said the board overseeing the district will set the rate, adding he will not present a budget requiring the maximum rate.

The department has 10 full-time, paid firefighters, which allows it to have four people in the fire station 24 hours per day, Whisenant said. He said the department has 20 part-time firefighters, but less than five volunteers.

"At the end of the day, the department needs more revenue," he said. "We can't keep up with the services for the same revenue."

Curtis Hathcock also spoke against the measure at the July meeting. He is working with others on a petition to oppose establishing the fire district, he said.

Hathcock understands the department may need more money, but the increase needs to be reasonable, he said. The possibility exists if someone owns a $1 million home that the dues could go from $150 to $2,500, Hathcock said.

He said he knows someone who's lived in the area for 20 years, and his home increased in value over the years to a million dollars. He's a wounded veteran and lives on a fixed income, Hathcock said.

"He can't take an increase from $150 to $2,500," Hathcock said.

Ken Farmer, a justice of the peace, said he's heard from several people concerning the proposal.

"All of them opposed to the increase," Farmer said. "Even though the is technically not a tax, it has the same effect without some of the limits on property tax. It will also be levied on the appraised value of real estate rather than assessed value like property taxes."

Roderick Grieve, county assessor, said the appraised value is the market value, and the assessed value is 20% of appraised or market value. He said the assessed value is what a person's annual property tax liability is based on.

Farmer thinks an increase that large should only be done with an election.

Joseph Bollinger, a justice of the peace, agreed to the issue should be put to a vote.

"While the current proposal is legal, I believe it is not the right thing to do for the people who live within that proposed district," Bollinger said.

Whisenant said the department will have to seek a special election for an increase in the fire dues if the fire district proposal is rejected.

Print Headline: Fire district being considered for Beaver Lake area


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