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Tax rates for firefighting could rise

Rowan County commissioners could decide Monday whether to let the countyís 24 volunteer fire departments increase their tax rates without holding public hearings this year, but only if the increases donít exceed tax base lost in revaluation.
Property tax values declined across the county in this yearís revaluation as the recession pushed down sales prices used for comparison by appraisers.
The Finance Department has sent letters to all the volunteer fire departments advising them of the reductions in their respective tax bases, according to a memorandum to county board members from Commissioner Jon Barber.
The letters also told the fire departments how much they would have to increase their fire district tax rates to generate the same amount of revenue they did using the old tax values.
Volunteer fire departments are required to hold public hearings before increasing their tax rates. With all of them facing a potential tax hike to bring in the same amount of money, though, Rowan County Fire and Rescue Association President John Morrison has asked commissioners for a ruling on whether that requirement could be lifted.
According to Barberís memo, the commissioners could waive the public hearings for this year only and still require them for fire departments that want to increase their tax rates above a revenue-neutral level.
Commissioners could also decide Monday whether four Senior Services employees going to work for Rufty-Holmes Senior Center will remain on the county health insurance plan.
Barber said in a memo to other board members that he supports letting those employees keep the insurance for which the county pays and letting Rufty-Holmes employees sign up for the countyís plan at their employerís expense.
After months of debate, the Board of Commissioners voted in February to move the Senior Services department under nonprofit Rufty-Holmes. County Manager Gary Page recommended the consolidation, saying the county would save about $132,000 a year.
The department already operated out of the Rufty-Holmes building.
Commissioners put off a decision in February about health insurance. But Barber, who is the countyís Senior Services liaison and a voting member of the Rufty-Holmes board, said a written agreement canít be drafted until the insurance issue is decided.
ěWe need to go ahead and have this matter resolved so the transitional Rowan County employees wonít be left hanging any longer, and we can move forward with merging the two operations,î Barber wrote.
The Board of Commissioners meets at 6 p.m. Monday in the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Room at the County Administration Building, 130 W. Innes St.

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