Forrest County increases taxes to add firefighters

Forrest County increases taxes to add firefighters

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Forrest County is adding four part-time firefighters to its force, which means taxpayers will have a slight increase.

County fire coordinator Chip Brown said the county currently has eight volunteer fire departments with about 230 volunteer firefighters. With the addition of four paid firefighters, the departments will be covered full time.

"The need is rising, and the calls for service each year is growing," Brown said.

Brown said the department responded to about 1,000 calls in 2014 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., which is when their volunteer firefighters are typically at their other jobs and unable to respond as quickly. Adding part-time firefighters for full-time coverage during those hours will alleviate that need.

"The small amount of tax increase that the citizens will see will be no comparison to the service they will receive," he said.

Forrest County was previously under a mutual aid agreement with the city of Petal, but that agreement recently ended. The agreement, according to Petal Mayor Hal Marx, said Petal would respond as a secondary source of help if Forrest County requested the services.

However, Marx said Petal was often the first to respond, which depleted resources within the city.

"When you respond to a call outside the city, you are basically leaving part of our city unprotected," Marx said.

Marx also said the Mississippi State Rating Bureau told the city its use of resources as first responders in the county would negatively impact the city's fire rating.

Brown, however, said the addition of the part-time firefighters in the county will likely improve the county rating, which would also help homeowners' insurance premiums. He said fire ratings are based on available resources, such as manpower, water supply and equipment, among other things.

Marx said Petal ended the agreement with Forrest County with the understanding that the city would be able to respond if called upon, and Brown said the county still maintains mutual aid agreements with other surrounding areas.

The tax increase for the firefighters only applies to residents in the county, and it will be $1.90 per year for a house worth $100,000.