The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 10, 2014

Two volunteer fire departments want voter approval to join forces

STARK CITY, Mo. — Volunteer fire departments in Stark City and Fairview hope voters in April can see the merits of a combined effort under the name Midway Fire Protection District.

Now the committee behind the effort is awaiting word for a judge that it has a sufficient number of valid signatures on a petition to place the question on the April ballot, along with a 30-cent property tax to finance the budget of the new fire district. One hundred signatures of registered voters are required. Committee Chairman Delmar Hunke said about 250 signatures have been collected.

The Stark City Volunteer Fire Department had a budget of about $12,000 last year, said Fire Chief James Palmer, while Fairview Fire Chief Greg Kruse said his department’s budget last year was around $8,200. Both chiefs said their departments each received some financial assistance from their town governments.

“When you’re a volunteer fireman and you spend all your time raising money, not training or fighting fires, it’s not right,” Hunke said.

Hunke said the district would include about 65 square miles in Newton County. Beside Fairview and Stark City, the community of Newtonia also would be part of the district.

Palmer said his department’s primary fundraiser is a March chili supper and auction. The department solicits donations from area businesses for the auction.

“That’s well over half our budget,” Palmer said. He said it also bills people when it responds to fires. “A lot of our time is dedicated to fundraising and bill-collecting.”

“We are getting by,” Palmer continued. “We want to do more than get by. The community deserves more than that.”

Kruse said his department has chili suppers October through March to raise money. A local quilting club also shares some of the proceeds from its annual quilt show. It also solicits a voluntary maintenance fee from property owners.

“It’s getting less and less every year,” Kruse said.

He said if the Fairview department responds to a fire at a property whose owner hasn’t paid the fee, they extinguish the fire and bill the insurance company. If the insurance company doesn’t pay, the department takes the loss.

Hunke said the 30 cents is the maximum levy that could be assessed, but Kruse said he didn’t foresee the new fire district ever hitting that level. Hunke said if the 30-cent levy were to be assessed, based on the current valuation, it would raise $33,000.

A 30-cent levy would result in an annual $57 property tax bill to the owner of a house with an appraised value of $100,000 in the district.

“We’re not out to make a profit here,” Kruse said. “We’re just wanting to keep the doors open.”

Kruse, Palmer and Hunke said they are confident that voters will support the combined fire district.

“We have good support from the community,” Palmer said. “We just need more stable support and equitable support.”

They said they had the idea of combining forces because both departments often are on the same calls anyway. The Stark City department has 12 volunteers and the Fairview department has 10.

The fire chiefs said there’s no need for additional fire stations and they’re also set for fire trucks, most of them donated by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

They need things like bunker gear, which can cost around $1,800.

“You’re supposed to swap out bunker gear every 10 years,” Palmer said, adding that some of Stark City’s gear has been around much longer.

Air packs is another need. They can cost up to $5,000.

“We could do so much with a little bit more,” Palmer said. “We miss some opportunities to get grants because we don’t have the matching funds.”

Training is another area where a reliable revenue source would help, they said.

Hunke said formation of the fire protection district may lower insurance rates for residents, but that’s not an assured result.

Posed district name

James Palmer, Stark City fire chief, said the name Midway was chosen as the name for the combined fire protection district because there once was a Midway School in the area.

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