Mark Taylor
Johnson County Fire District No. 1 is proposing a 13.839 mill levy for the 2012 budget year.
That includes 10.914 mills for the district’s operating budget plus an increase of 2.925 mills for debt service the district assumed in 2009 and must begin making payments on in  2012.
Property owners in the fire district’s taxing area, which includes Edgerton and the unincorporated areas surrounding Gardner, would pay about $239.65 in 2012 fire district taxes on a $150,000 home if the budget is approved as published by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 4.
According to Max Sielert, chief of the fire district, Gardner residents will not see an increase in fire district taxes because the city contracts fire services from the district on an annual basis.
Therefore Gardner is not obligated to help pay off debt the fire district incurred before the city and fire district merged services in November, 2010.
The debt is for station improvements and equipment purchases in 2009.
“Even though we now cover the city of Gardner, Gardner residents do not pay a fire district tax,” Sielert said. “The city pays the fire district a preset amount that is written into the contract for services, and that amount equates to no increase.”
However, Fire District 1 taxpayers outside of the Gardner area will see a slight increase in their tax bills as a result of the debt payment.
“They (those in Edgerton and the unincorporated areas surrounding Gardner) are paying more than they did before, but not as a result of the contract (with Gardner),” Sielert said.  “The taxpayers of Fire District 1 were going to see this increase anyway because we already assumed this debt in 2009. Regardless of the agreement, taxpayers were going to have to pay that addition tax for debt taken on in 2009.”
Sielert said the Gardner’s year-to-year contract was based on 8.135 mills, which was the equivalent of what Gardner was spending on fire services at the time.
That’s an average of $140 per year for the owner of a $150,000 home.
The city of Gardner paid the fire district $1.227 million for fire services in 2011.
A 3 percent increase was built into the 2012 contract.
Sielert said the city is saving about $50,000 per year as a result of contracting through the fire district.
“They (Gardner) are paying less than they were budgeting (for fire service) before the consolidation,” Sielert said. “The citizens of Gardner are not paying more than they did before.”
Sielert said the contract will renew annually until the city of Gardner decides to consolidate into the fire district’s taxing district.
That could be the result of increasing property values.
Sielert said if the fire district were able to continue to provide service to the city of Gardner for 8.135 mills three years from now and assessed valuation increases, it might be in the city’s best interest to join the taxing district because the costs would be lower.
However if the fire district were to raise Gardner’s mill levy to 9 mills, the city might choose to continue contracting services for the lower rate.
“If the council says, ‘No, we don’t want (to become part of the fire district’s taxing district), the contract keeps renewing,” Sielert said.
Prior to the merger, the city of Gardner maintained dual police and fire services under the umbrella of the public safety department.
Public safety officers were cross-trained and performed double duty as police officers and firefighters.
The city and fire district negotiated merging fire services for more than a year before coming to an agreement in late 2010.
The county commission approved a $4.4 million bond issue in 2010 that allowed the fire district to finance the purchase of Gardner’s fire equipment, which includes the recently opened Fire Station 2 on 183rd Street.