Upshur County Emergency Services District tax hike on ballot
By Phillip Willliams Special to the News-Journal
April 27, 2012 at 11 p.m.
GILMER - Early voting begins Monday on a measure that, if approved, could increase taxes for people in the Upshur County Emergency Services District to the state maximum.
Other than voters in East Mountain, only people who live outside an incorporated city limit can vote in the election to determine if the district can raise its tax rate from 3 cents per $100 valuation to as much as 10 cents.
East Mountain voters can participate in the May 12 election because it is the only town in the district.
An informational meeting on the election will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Gilmer Fire Department.
Emergency Services District President Bill Darby said the district's board called the election partly because last year's outbreak of wildfires "took our funds way down" and put a "terrible strain on the (firefighting) equipment."
Other reasons for seeking the tax increase to the maximum rate allowed by law include increased fuel costs, the disappearance of most past federal and state grants available for emergency services and decreased property valuations, Darby said.
The proposed tax hike has drawn fire from tea party activist Chuck Mears, one of three candidates for chairman of the Upshur County Republican Party.
Mears said the proposed increase would "add to already burdensome taxes."
Darby said the weather forecast for the next couple of years "is not much more promising than what we had" last year - meaning there is a high chance of more wildfires. The tax increase is aimed at raising more revenue for the county's fire departments, he said.
Darby said the district's board believes, if the tax rate isn't increased, the county will return to where it was before the district was formed 22 years ago - under-funded.
Mears argued, " In fact, we may not have another summer of drought and record breaking temperatures."
Each Upshur County commissioner appoints one member to the emergency services district board. The county judge appoints the fifth. The board, which called the election earlier this year, has four members and one vacancy.
Voting is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily next week through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 7 and 8.