SHERIDAN COUNTY — Sheridan County fire district officials approached local legislators with a suggestion to increase the mill levy tax amount to a maximum of four mills at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce legislative forum Tuesday.
Tim Thomas, chair of the Sheridan Area Rural Fire District — better known as Goose Valley Volunteer Fire Department — and also a representative of the Sheridan County Fire Board asked legislators to consider drafting a bill that changes the current three mill levy cap to four, allowing local county volunteer fire districts to collect enough funding to stay afloat. With no salary costs, Thomas said the only costs are items to keep the districts functioning.
“It’s just bare bones,” Thomas said. “It’s equipment, it’s the gear, paying the bills, keeping the lights on, things like that. Some fire districts can just barely make that happen.”
Thomas said the majority of the more than 140 fire districts throughout the state are operated by volunteers. While the Sheridan County Fire Board approved the idea, legislators came back with personal and anecdotal opposition from constituents.
“People are kind of all over the place on this one,” Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, said.
Western said he spoke with the fire chief for the Story fire district and he said the district was OK with the funding it currently receives. Thomas refuted Western, saying that while maybe some firefighters oppose the legislation, the county board unanimously approved bringing the suggestion to the Wyoming Rural Firefighters Association. The association, however, did not move forward with the suggestion by drafting legislation with legislators.
By increasing the maximum mills available to be levied on the taxpayers, Thomas said it gives fire districts the opportunity to increase levied mills up to that amount but is not required of them.
“They don’t have to assess four mill; they don’t even have to assess the current three mill,” Thomas said. “They can assess whatever level appropriate to provide the funding necessary for their services.”
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, asked Thomas if he considered asking it to be a ballot initiative.
“It’s a lot easier for people to decide whether to tax themselves rather than for us to give the board power to do that,” Kinskey said.
Thomas said the fire board is a group of elected officials and that the authority is appropriate to be given to them for this item.
The legislation to change the maximum mill levy amount would first need to go through the House and be introduced by a representative, as it falls under appropriations and finances. The two representatives in attendance at the time of Thomas’ presentation — Western and Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan — did not say whether they would introduce the legislation in the upcoming session.