Marianna- Jackson County Commissioners have been considering a somewhat controversial option to improve the county's response to emergencies. They've looked into implementing a countywide property assessment for fire services.
County officials said they needed the property assessment to improve volunteer fire and rescue departments, especially in the more rural areas of the county.
It looked like a tax, sounded like a tax, but Jackson County Administrator, Ted Lakey told us, it was not a tax. "I don't think we should just label everything that comes up a tax and then try to kill it."
Lakey pointed out that the proposal was a property assessment, something Jackson County residents already paid for. Bay County imposed the same type of assessment years ago, and Walton County has been considering the same.
"It would be a varying rate. Someone who owns a small piece of property wouldn't be assessed very much. But, your larger businesses, your Family Dollar, Wal-Mart- they would be paying a proportional share for the space they occupied" Lakey explained.
Supporters said the assessment was necessary to improve emergency fire and medical services."The possibility of getting some paid firefighters in some of the rural areas, the possibility of getting medical help much quicker is there" Lakey explained.
But not everyone was buying-in to the proposal. "I have been a firefighter for 20 years. I'm one of the ones who would benefit from it. But I'm against it" said Campbellton Volunteer Fireman, Eric Toole. "I agree the volunteer departments work hard, we need help. But if it's something that the government says we have to pay, it's a tax."
Toole said property owners paid too much as it was, and suggested raising the tax on something like alcohol and tobacco.
But Lakey explained, that wasn't an option. "I understand it has to be property, it can't be an individual tax because fire services protect property."
Board members planned to take up the proposal again during the September 11 meeting. They said they would decide if they wanted to hire a consulting firm to further explore the plan.