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Rural fire charges expected to increase
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TOWN OF MONROE - Rural residents in the towns of Clarno, Monroe and parts of Sylvester can get ready to see their fire call bills double, if they have to call out the Monroe Fire Department in the future.

The city has asked the rural townships to pony up a total of $100,000 per year, up from $12,500, to cover their portion of fixed costs - the administrative costs and the work and training to maintain the city fire department's readiness for rural calls. The cost per rural call is also expected to increase, about 20 percent for vehicles and 6-20 percent for personnel.

At a board meeting of the Monroe Rural Fire District on Monday, Sept. 30, Fire Chief Daryl Rausch recommended the townships spread the fixed costs among their property owners by adding it to the townships' tax levy through a referendum or public hearing.

The added tax would be about $54 on a $125,000 home, he said. Fire calls would continue to be billed per incident for wages and the use of city equipment.

Some board members said the chance of getting the public to accept that additional tax would be slim.

But board members and many citizens, including township board members, attending the meeting agreed: The extra costs should be passed on only to those who have the fires and use the service directly.

That billing procedure will probably double the cost of a response to a rural fire incident, Rausch said.

In rural districts, the city bills the costs of a fire incident to the township, which pays the bill and gets reimbursed by the property owner. Some board members noted that the risk of non-collection might also increase, if the costs are doubled.

Rausch will meet with the city's Common Council in closed session Tuesday, Oct. 1 to discuss the rural fire district's decision.

According to Rausch the townships are currently paying only seven percent of the operating costs of the Monroe city fire department, but calls to the rural districts make up 27 percent of the department's call volume.

And the townships' use of the department is closer to 38 percent, if wages for the firefighters are included, because rural fires take more man hours per incident than in the city.

City fire calls take an average of 17 minutes, although firefighters get paid a minimum of one hour. Rural fires take an average of 104 minutes, Rausch said.

Rausch said the townships' actually portion of department costs is closer to $140,000.

The townships own two tankers and one brush truck, which the city department equips with radios, axes, chainsaws and other equipment. The tankers and brush truck are not used in city fires.

The cost to own a fire truck, including maintenance and testing, is about $20,000 per year, Rausch said.

City property owners pay a fire protection fee found on their water bills each month. The fire department budget is in the city's total budget and receives part of the tax levy. Rausch said the city taxpayers have been subsidizing rural fire protection.