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Every so often I find myself in a discussion about who should pay fire district taxes, and who should be exempt.  Property owners typically pay fire district taxes, but quite a lot of municipal and non-profit property is exempt.  'They use fire and emergency services, so they should pay,' the argument goes.  That's not wrong.  Just because the Town is exempt from paying the tax doesn't mean the fire trucks are going to be absent if the Town Hall catches fire.

On the other hand, if the Town pays the fire district tax, taxpayers are still paying it because Town taxes would have to be higher to pay fire district taxes.  It might be a wash -- property taxes would be lower than they are for the fire district and higher for the town.  Town, Village, School District, Library... the fire district needs a certain amount of money for operating funds, and ultimately it's property owners who pay it.

Personally I prefer the current system, because at least I know all the money for the Fire District on my tax bill is labeled 'Fire District'.  The Town provides other services, so I am happy for the categories on the tax bill to be separate, with no hidden town money in the fire money and vice versa.

If the money is coming from us anyway, what's the difference if the Town or the Village or the School District pay it versus us paying it?  It is us paying either way.  No harm, no foul.  But what about places of worship or other tax exempt entities?  Property taxpayers don't pay a mandatory tax into them, but the fire engines and EMTs still come rushing to their aid when they need it.  Ironically, that's a murkier moral area.

Lansing is a lucky community in that it has a volunteer fire department.  That means the fire district tax is pretty low compared to districts with paid first responders.  All we have to pay for is the stuff -- fire stations, trucks, hoses, and equipment -- not salaries, benefits, retirement and so on, which is the most expensive part of a budget.

So, from a dollars and cents standpoint the issue is relatively insignificant.  We pay less for our fire and emergency protection than we do for town, village or county services, and a heck of a lot less in fire district taxes than we pay for our schools.  It's cheap insurance against fire, flood, and an array of emergencies.

Is it right that property owners make up for revenue lost from tax-exempt municipal and non-profit properties?  I don't know. It's the way it is at the moment.  The good news is that if your house catches fire, highly trained volunteers rush to put it out.

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