Voters to Decide If Volunteer Fire Department Dues Required


HOT SPRINGS, Ark.-- A Central Arkansas volunteer fire department hopes voters in Garland County and part of Hot Spring County show up at the polls Tuesday. 

The department wants voluntary dues to become mandatory. 

The Lake Hamilton Fire and Rescue is asking for the thousands of people that they could save to help save them at the polls. 

Essentially voters will decide if voluntary, yearly dues that the department runs off of should become mandatory dues. Yes, that's a tax. However, the department said people shouldn't think of it that way though. It said a "for" vote is a way to make things fair. 

The special election will open the doors at the Lake Hamilton Fire Department Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

Tom Zukowski is the director and treasurer of the volunteer department. 

He said, "It's not fair for 80% of the property owners to carry 100% of the burden of supporting the fire department."

Zukowski explained that the way things work now, it runs off the voluntary dues. 

"And we collect about 80 % of those dues every year," he told us. 

He said the department loses about $125,000 a year from the 20% of people who chose not to pay. 

"Our firefighters do not know whether they're (people needing help) dues-paying members or not. They respond to all calls," Zukowski said. 

Cutting the budget will only go so far before people might feel the effects. 

He explained what people will vote for, "the conversion of our association to a fire protection district."

A switch of a word - a different title- would make the dues mandatory. He said it would be the fix to its funding. 

Association to a district? That sounds like a small change but the department said it would be a big step to ensuring its future. 

"The only way we can provide the services (is) we need to generate revenue. So, the best way for us to do that is to try to collect the $120,000 we don't collect," he explained. 

Zukowski told us forced annexation has also cut the department's revenue by almost $100,000 since 2016. 

He said, "That's a big chunk of money to lose in a short period of time."

The volunteer fire department is the only department in the area with boats on the lakes. 

Zukowski said if the voters chose "for" and it becomes a district the yearly dues amount won't change.

However, if the measure failed and things stay as they are he said dues could possibly go up 20%-25%. 

The polls will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and close at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 13, 2018. 

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