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Fire tax approved for southern Jackson County

cashiersMark Jones has never voted for a tax increase before, but the Jackson County Commissioner joined the rest of the board in favor of instituting a fire tax for the Cashiers and Highlands areas of the county last week.

“We’ve had a number of individuals contact us for this, and some of them have spoke against it for various reasons,” Jones told the board. “I feel the safely component is of such value that I’m going to concede that tax increase philosophy I’ve had.”

A fire tax, at this point, is a must, Cashiers Fire Chief Randy Dillard has argued repeatedly as the tax has been discussed. The fire department is working with old equipment and depending on a staff of volunteers who often have their own jobs and typically live a substantial distance from the fire station. The upshot is that, while call volume has been shooting upward, response time is increasing and equipment is aging. 

“There’s no way we can keep going like we’re going,” Dillard said at a public hearing in April. 

The new tax will tack 1.87 cents per $100 of property value onto the county tax bills of Cashiers property owners and charge 0.9 cents per $100 — the same fire tax rate Macon County charges — to property owners in Jackson County who are best served by the Highlands Fire Department in Macon County. That revenue will make up the Cashiers Fire Department’s budget and reimburse Highlands for services given to Jackson residents. 

“We are happy to work with our friends from Jackson County on this issue,” said Kevin Corbin, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners. “It’s the right thing to do for the citizens of Jackson County who need the service, and also it’s fair to the citizens of Macon County.”

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By and large, speakers at last month’s public hearing did not oppose the tax outright but rather took issue with the fact that instituting it would mean losing the $200,000 the county had been pitching in toward the fire department’s budget. They felt it was unfair for residents in the southern end of the county to forfeit that supplement when their high-value homes already form the majority of the county’s revenue. 

County Manager Chuck Wooten, however, pointed out that the proposed 2015-16 budget includes $370,000 of new spending in the Cashiers area, far more than the $200,000 that’s leaving the fire department. And Jones said he’d like to see that investment continue. 

“I would like to challenge us to continue that investment,” Jones told his fellow board members.  

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