Citizens gather in opposition to fire levy

On Friday evening, a group of citizens gathered together on Main Avenue in Weston, to discuss their opinions about the fire levy and to share information that they have learned on the upcoming levy election.
The organizer of the meeting, a Weston resident, Debbie Novak, is caught in between the situations of the “yes” or “no” votes for the proposed levy.
Novak said she owns several buildings and rental properties in Lewis County. She is currently in the middle of a renovation project on a building on Main Avenue in Weston.
Novak said that she and her significant other purchased the building and wanted to bring something back to Weston. Now, she is in fear that impending taxes could take an opportunity away, with the fear of being able to afford the possible new tax, she said.
On the other hand, Novak has a son who is a volunteer for one of the local fire departments and has been a part of that department for years.
Novak said she continues to support her son, just as she always has, along with his department and the others.
She said she really is caught in between being a supportive mother and a property owner.
“It isn’t that I don’t support the firemen, I do, trust me, I do. This levy will not just affect the property owners, but our renters too. If my taxes go up too high, I will have to compensate, by increasing the rent, and the tenants may not be able to afford the increase. The renters will leave, and then I lose income. It is a spiral effect,” said Novak.
“The more you own, the more you pay in the levy, that is just wrong,” said Novak.
Novak said she also is worried because different entities are not viewing the whole picture.
Consumers in Weston are now paying a 1 percent sales tax on certain goods purchased within Weston city limits. If the levy is passed, another fee is placed on property owners in the county.
“Lewis County’s economy and population are declining, and adding more taxes will not help revive it,” said Novak.
“The firemen and government officials (city and county) need to look at the community instead of their specific needs before they make a decision that impacts a lot of people,” she continued.
Katy Craig, a Lewis County resident, said she was more concerned with the finances of the fire departments and officials there being more fiscally responsible with the money raised by the levy.
“They really should have open books that the tax payers can look at,” she said. “The citizens also deserve to know what the money is going to be spent on exactly. We need an open book policy.
“If the citizens are giving the fire departments $3 million, then we deserve answers,” she continued. We already voted on this tax once, and it was voted down by the people [residents of Lewis County].”
Craig said she attended a Lewis County Fire Board meeting after the last election to raise enough “yes” votes for the levy. There, she asked if there was another way to save money, such as raising the fire fee or consolidating two different departments, and her suggestions were shot down.
Craig said she has been working with property owners who do not support the levy election to place signs saying, “Vote No Fire Levy, Jan. 6” throughout Lewis County.
She said she has been cussed at, and signs have been stolen or driven through.
“We’ve tried to keep small business away from the signs, because it could hurt their business, all the signs I have put up have been on private property and they are put up by the owners’ request,” Craig said.
The proposed fire levy was initially voted down by Lewis County citizens in November of 2016, after the levy election failed to receive the “yes” vote of 60 percent of voter turnout or higher by about two percent of the vote.
However, the six volunteer fire departments within the county have decided to try again in the hope of garnering the levy to raise money for the six departments. All costs that are associated with procuring this special election are estimated to be between $28,000-$32,000, according to the fire board.  
The six departments within Lewis County are Weston, Jane Lew, Pricetown, Walkersville, Jackson’s Mill and Midway volunteer fire departments.
If the levy passes, it will also repeal the $20 fire fee that is instated within the county and collected by the tax office, however, it will not repeal the City of Weston’s $100 municipal free for residential properties or $275 municipal fees for businesses, a portion of which is used to pay for the paid employees of Weston Fire Department.
If the vote passes, the fire levy will begin on July 1, 2018, and last a span of five years. If at the end of the five-year time frame the fire board wishes to present the county with the levy election again, they may do so, and the voting process for its renewal would begin again.
The levy payment will go to the six departments within the county for assistance operating the departments in terms of materials and equipment for maintaining and enhancing fire department facilities, general supplies, utilities, vehicle expenses and insurance expenses.
Weston Fire Chief Kenny James said the average fire engine’s lifespan is 20 years, and at the department, they have one truck that is 30 years old.
“We surpass the average
lifespan of trucks, believe it or not. Maintenance on these trucks is costly, but replacing a truck is even more so,” said James.
The approximate total of money raised annually will be $598,975, with the total during the five-year levy period being $2,994,875.
According to documentation from the Lewis County Commission and Lewis County Assessor’s Office, “In the event the separate and aggregated value of each class taxable property within Lewis County increases during the term of the special excess levy, the levy rate shall be reduced so that the projected tax collection will not exceed $598,975 in any fiscal year.”
The proposed addition rate of levy in cents per $100 of assessed valuation on each class of property is: Class I: 1.84 cents, Class II: 3.68 cents, Class III: 7.36 cents and Class IV: 7.36 cents.
Class I property is nontaxable and is essentially non-existent, according to Lewis County Assessor John Breen. He also said churches, cemeteries, schools and other properties like those are exempt from this tax, but are not part of the Class I category.
Class II Property applies to all property owned, used and occupied by the owner for residential purposes and all farms.
Class III property is all property, real and personal, outside of a municipality exclusive of Class II property.
Class IV property is all property, real and property, inside of a municipality exclusive of Class II property.
Real property consists of all parcels of real estate, all buildings permanently affixed and most mineral real property interests.
The levy election is on Saturday, Jan. 6, polls open at 6:30 a.m., and will close at 7:30 p.m.
For information on your polling place, see the front page or call the Lewis County Clerk’s Office.

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