Letter to the Editor By "Ron Verbos"

Ron Verbos
SDVFDRS Tax Increase Request- Unanswered Questions
On Feb 22, 2018, SDVFDRS held a public forum to discuss and present the requested Fire/EMS Tax Rate increase request for FY 2019 and beyond. This proposed tax rate increase is a 29% hike for the 2nd district and a 40% hike for those in the 9th districts. The forum revealed several concerns and a lot of remaining questions regarding the true need of this tax hike. The one of the most telling details revealed during the public forum was the apparent lack of available funding even with a tax rate increase. Right now, the published SDVFDRS estimated cost is $8.0 million. A clear and concise plan to obtain additional funding was not provided. The majority of the future money required was based on upcoming requests to other organizations including government and commercial sources for loans. There was not a “Plan B” provided if any one of those sources of money did not come through. Another concern was the true cost of the building at this concept plan phase. Based on the information provided, A&E cost estimates were based on the average of the square foot cost. It is estimated to be somewhere between $275 and $325 per square foot using 2018 construction dollars. Based on a 28,000 fire station the minimal expense could be $9.3 million or even higher. A few community citizens with construction experience indicated the construction cost could actually exceed $10 million. That cost is BEFORE the interest loan payments are added up. One of the controversial matters discussed was SDVFDRS informing the community that they are operating at a deficit and have been for 5 years. The community pointed out their audits from FY 2014 through 2017 do not indicate that but actually shows an increase in the funds available to the tune of $1.5 million in the last 3 years. So, is SDVFDRS accurate and the Certified Public Accountants wrong? SDVFDRS finally admitted that the publically stated community donation of $700,000 was actually an internal Board of Directors transfer of funds. With that knowledge and putting it with “operating under deficits for the last five years”, makes one wonder if this is really a revenue problem as opposed to a fiscal responsibility and management problem. Once citizen even provided county based numbers on fire tax revenues obtained by SDVFDRS since their last tax rate increase. According to that citizen, SDVFDRS is receiving 92.9% more in revenue today than in the year 2000. This is WITHOUT a tax rate increase. Unfortunately, the public forum ended with more unanswered questions. It is quite clear the planning for this has not been very thorough and it gives the appearance that the new station is actually just a “wish list item” for a few members of SDVFDRS leadership, as opposed to a fact based and sound business plan. They will almost double the square footage they operate and maintain. So, has this community grown so much that the foot print required to support emergency responses has also doubled? Lastly and a slightly different subject, reporting has indicated that our environmental taxes are going up this upcoming tax year. What other taxes are going up? We are willing to bet your medical insurance costs are going up too. The issue of fighting the tax rate increase is not about a lack of support for the volunteers, it is about affordability, justification of need and to ensure the fixed income families of our districts do not have financial burdens placed on them because of a wish list by a few greedy people on the SDVFDRS Board of Directors.