COTTONWOOD, Ark. – Collecting fire dues is often a challenge for rural fire districts but a change in Arkansas law may make the task a little easier going forward.
In many rural fire districts, fire dues are considered voluntary but many residents don’t pay them. One example is the Cottonwood Fire District in Boone County, Arkansas.
“What people don’t understand is how much work and how much money is involved in operating a volunteer fire department,” says Chief Tommy Creamer, who is also the Boone County Treasurer.
“The [volunteers] get paid zero,” he says, “but it costs you in the neighborhood, a minimum, of $100,000 to build a station and put a truck in it.”
Creamer estimates roughly 300 of the 700 residents in the Cottonwood Fire District don’t pay the $35 voluntary fee.
“The thing is, if you have not paid your fire dues, you have a fire and we respond, we’re going to charge you up to $5,000,” he says.
A change made by state lawmakers in 2015 may make that a less probable occurrence.
If a rural fire department can collect signatures from 50-percent of district voters from the last general election, the fire coverage is no longer considered voluntary.
“I’ll use Cottonwood as an example, we had to go out and collect 356 signatures in our fire district,” Creamer says.
Cottonwood isn’t the only one getting the ball rolling, Creamer says 11 of the 12 voluntary fire districts in Boone County are working on, or have completed, the process.
Currently, the Capps-Batavia Fire District and the Diamond City Fire District have submitted the necessary signatures.
The Cottonwood Fire Department is expected to submit its signatures to the Boone County Quorum Court next week.