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Fire board gets earful, opts for lower tax rate increase

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Members reject 38-percent rate increase for 18-percent hike

By BEN CARLSON

The Anderson County Fire District got an earful tonight from a large crowd that showed up to protest its proposed 38-percent property tax rate increase, and opted instead to raise the rate 18 percent.

The meeting, held at Station 1 on Wildcat Road, included about a dozen people who spoke out against what would have been the largest single-year tax rate increase in the county’s history.

The decision affects only property located outside of the city.

Following a lengthy delay while board members scurried to try to come to a tax rate below the 38 percent they had previously decided to use, they voted 6-1 to increase the rate from 72 cents per $1,000 in assessed value to 85 cents. That means fire taxes on a home assessed at $100,000 will increase from $72 to $85.

About 50 people filled the station’s fire bay and broke into a round of applause several times as speakers voiced their objections to the proposed increase.

Following the public hearing, board members who said they came to the meeting prepared to increase the per $1,000 rate from 72 cents to $1 — the highest allowed by law — said they had changed their minds after hearing from the public.

Following a lengthy informational pitch for the $1 rate by Fire Chief Pat Krogman, several former fire board members spoke out against the increase.

“You’re biting the hand that feeds you,” said former board member Steve Trent. “You need to start living within your means.”

Doug Ingram, a retired 30-year firefighter who also previously served on the board, cautioned the board not to raise the rate so high.

“I ask that you review your required needs, not your wants,” Ingram said, who went on to say he would support smaller, incremental increases.

Taxpayer Renee Head accused the fire board of “abusing” it’s power, and businessman Brad Smith called out the Anderson County Fiscal Court to “do away” with the fire district if it raised the rate so high.

Taxpayer Noah Pruitt was among the more animated speakers, calling into question the board’s “cavalier attitude.”

“The perception your giving is that all you’re worried about is getting that money,” Pruitt said. “Everything else be damned.”

The crowd became its most agitated when a woman started questioning how much Krogman and others were paid.

Krogman said he’s paid $51,000 a year, and that a part-time assistant is paid $20,000.

“Don’t you think your salaries are too high,” the woman asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Krogman, which drew laughter from the crowd followed by the woman pointing out that she earns $29,000 a full-time state employee and scoffing at a part-time assistant earning $20,000.

Jamie Thornton, who spoke several times during the meeting, then asked Krogman to whom the fire board is accountable.

“The public,” Krogman responded.

“Well, we’re here,” she said. “I hope you all will listen to use because we just can’t allow this.”

Board member Bill Hainline said following the public hearing that he was in support of the $1 rate until hearing from the public, and made a motion to increase the rate from 72 cents to 80 cents. It failed 5-2, with only Hainline and board member Richie Womack voting for the rate.

A motion was then made to set the rate at 85 cents, which was approved with votes by Hainline, Womack, Terry Cline, Jamie Elam, David Lloyd and Johnny Walls. Board member Rob Gresham, who lobbied for the $1 rate before the vote, voted no.

For more, see Wednesday’s edition of The Anderson News.