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Boone County Fire District Seeks Reimbursement through Legislation

Meiying Wu

After decades of negotiating territory with the city of Columbia, the Boone County Fire Protection District is seeking help through legislation.

For years, the Fire District hasn’t been getting reimbursed for services they provide in the annexed areas of the city because the property taxes are going to Columbia.

Several agreements between the Fire District and the city to resolve the issue have been made but have since been dissolved.

The Fire District is now seeking help through a bill proposed by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. The bill was heard Wednesday by the General Laws Committee. The city did not testify at the hearing.

“We would ask the members of the committee to support this legislation because we believe it will maintain our current tax base but also bring the city back to the negotiating table to resolve these issues,” Fire Chief Scott Olsen said.

During the hearing, Olsen walked the committee through the history of the agreements.

In 1994, the two signed an agreement that allowed the Fire District to continue to provide services in newly annexed territories. In return, the city provided financial compensation to the Fire District in the amount it normally would have received from property taxes in the annexed area.

The agreement was changed in 2009, when both parties signed an agreement that set new boundaries for what areas would be covered by the Fire District or the Columbia Fire Department. The Fire District continued to service annexed areas for a fixed financial reimbursement of $350,000 a year.

In 2015, the city requested to change the agreement again. Under the new agreement, the Fire District continued to service annexed areas but with no financial compensation. Olsen said it quickly became clear that the Fire District was running an increasing number of calls in the city of Columbia as it continued to annex more property.

“The city of Columbia did not grow their own fire department to keep pace with their growing city,” Olsen said. “At the same time, the Fire District was losing tax revenue as annexations continued. These annexations put the Fire District in a difficult position.”

The agreement in 2015 was signed with the intent for both parties to continue to search for a solution to the Fire District’s loss of revenue, but despite meeting over 20 times in the past two years, no agreement was found, Olsen said.

The Fire District notified the city that it was terminating its 2015 agreement effective April 3, 2018, and it is now pursuing a legislative solution.

Through Senate Bill 889, the Fire District is pursuing three goals:

  • Reasonable reimbursement for the Fire District’s costs of serving within the city limits
  • Coordination of the locations of Fire District and Columbia Fire Department stations to avoid duplication of services
  • Preservation of the Fire District tax base, which is based exclusively on property tax

The bill would cost the city of Columbia less than $50,000 in loss of property taxes, according to the bill’s fiscal note. Those taxes would go to the Fire District.

“We’re just trying to make sure that in our particular instance, in Boone County, when they do the work they have the ability to be compensated and continue to do their work,” Rowden said.