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Rural Meade County residents to vote on taxing districts

December 14, 2018

STURGIS — Residents in rural Meade County will go to the polls Tuesday, Dec. 18, to determine if fire and ambulance taxing districts should be formed in their area.

Voters who live in the Tilford No. 6, Alkali No. 6A, Harmony No. 8, and Bear Butte No. 9 polling locations are the only residents who will be voting.

The vote on the West-Central Meade County Ambulance District and West-Central Meade County Fire District stems from discussions the city of Sturgis initiated more than a year ago in an attempt to find additional funding for operations of both the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department and the Sturgis Ambulance Service.

The issue has been a concern for the city far longer. City Manager Daniel Ainslie said city taxpayers are shouldering the brunt of the cost of emergency services provided not only within city limits, but also in the rural areas east of Sturgis in Meade County.

Ainslie has said that it is important that everyone who uses the emergency services should pay for them.

Mayor Mark Carstensen agreed.

“At some point in time, this council or future councils will have to take a hard look at spending taxpayers’ money to provide services to people who are not paying for those services,” Carstensen said.

In fall 2017, the city passed two resolutions in support of formation of a fire and ambulance district. Citizens unsuccessfully circulated petitions to initiate the process to form the two districts.

In the spring and summer 2018, the Meade County Commission was approached by a group of citizens requesting that the county initiate the process to form the two districts by resolution, following state statutes and setting the election.

Mark Bruch was one of those concerned citizens who appeared before the commission. He said his motivation was to keep emergency service protection the way the systems are set up now.

“We’ve got great service now. And it’s understandable that they want some support. I believe this (the tax districts) is a way we can pay for the services in as fair a manner as possible,” he said.

Bruch has been working with county staff to get the word out about the election and what the formation of the districts would mean for county residents.

He said Tuesday’s election is the first step in making sure rural residents have quality emergency services now and in the future.

If the residents affirm the formation of the tax districts on Dec. 18, another vote will be held in February to elect members of the tax district board of directors. This board will set the amount to be levied and determine who the district will contract with for services.

“There’s not a lot of risk in it for the voters. Ultimately a board of directors could determine not to do anything,” Bruch said.

Currently, under the approved boundaries, there are 1,832 registered voters in the ambulance district and 1,684 in the fire district.

For the fire district, there are 1,091 property owners with a total assessed value of $325,460,643. This includes all classes of property.

For the ambulance district, rural residents have asked if only the owner-occupied classified properties be taxed for the district because when an ambulance call is made, the ambulance traditionally will be called to the home. They believe just the structures on a ranch should be taxed and not the agriculture land.

State law allows two levies for ambulance districts, one for 60 cents per thousand dollars of taxable valuation and a second capital outlay fund levy of 50 cents per thousand dollars of taxable valuation — this would equate to a $1.10 tax levy per thousand dollars of taxable valuation. For fire districts, state law allows $1.60 per thousand dollars of taxable valuation.

A live radio show concerning the vote will be noon Saturday on KBHB radio (810 AM).

For more information and maps, visit meadecounty.org/fireambulance-districts.

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