The process of consolidating city fire services with Johnson County Fire District No. 1 may soon cross the finish line when city and fire officials ask for approval from the Johnson County commissioners. City residents may see a mill levy increase; however, the fire district’s insurance rating has decreased.
The merger has been ongoing for about seven years, first thru contracted services and then requiring legislative wording changes, the governor’s signature and county and council approval.
Prior to 2010, a city public safety department, which included police officers with some fire training, responded to fires in town. In October 2010, officials separated fire protection services from police and entered into a contract with JCFD1 for services. As part of the agreement, Gardner turned over debt payments on a fire station and police building on 183rd Street to the fire district as well as fire equipment including trucks.
May 2, the Gardner City Council voted 4-0 to approve the request to join JCFD1. Rich Melton, council member, was absent. The next step will be the county commission’s approval and city and fire district officials are expected to attend the May 19 commission meeting.
If the county commission approves, the exact affect on city property owners is unknown until the county clerk does a final calculation of the mil levy next month.
Without seeing those exact numbers it’s hard to calculate, said Rob Kirk, JCFD1 fire chief. However, he said the district’s levy will hold steady at the 2015 rate of 12.4 mills, but Gardner residents will see an increase from 9 to 12 mills.
If the city had chosen to renegotiate the contract rather than consolidate, residents would still have seen the increase, he said.
Laura Gurley, Gardner finance director, said the city will reduce their mill by nine as they will no longer be levying money for fire services.
Based on the preliminary city total assessed valuation provided by Johnson County, residents could see a reduction of 9 mills, Gurley said. “We don’t get our ‘official’ assessed value until end of June, but there has never been a significant difference, so I am building a budget with a reduction of 9 mills.
”The county clerk does the final calculation of levy, so that number is as close as known until that determination is made,” she said.
“I can’t speak to the impact of the city’s mill levy reduction for homeowners, or whether Gardner property owners will pay more or less, because as of Jan. 1, 2017, the city is out as the taxing entity, and the tax levy will instead be levied directly by JCFD1,” said Gurley. “They are their own taxing entity and create their own budget.
“The city’s action is to consolidate and stop collecting any property tax revenue for fire services because we don’t have a fire services contract as of Jan. 1, 2017, so we don’t need the revenue….but JCFD1 will levy for their services directly.”
The fire district calculates their mill levy based on the gap between their revenues and their expenditures on a combined assessed valuation that will by then include the City of Gardner, Edgerton, unincorporated Johnson County, and New Century AirCenter.
In February, 2016, Dennis Meyers, JCFD1, said the district’s operating mil was 12.4; 15 mil included bond indebtedness, which does not affect Gardner residents.
JCFD No. 1’s insurance rating is 4, down from Gardner’s ISO of 6, due to close proximity to water and fire stations. This may result in a decrease in homeowner’s insurance premiums.