A petition drive is in the works to improve fire service and reduce the cost of homeowners' insurance in Marion Township in southwestern Douglas County.
Bruce Snodgrass, a Marion Township property owner, said that within the next month he'll begin circulating a petition seeking to remove the township from Osage County Fire District No. 4, the current provider of fire protection.
Snodgrass said the Overbrook-based fire department is simply too far away to serve the growing population of the township that includes all of the county southwest of Lone Star.
"Most of the population lives in the northern two-thirds of the township, and really any fire call out to that area takes 20 minutes or more," Snodgrass said.
The result is most parts of Marion Township have the worst fire protection rating the insurance industry gives. Snodgrass said he and several others want to be removed from the Osage County fire district in order to clear the way to create a new fire district serving only Marion Township.
He said a new centrally located fire station could reduce response times by about 50 percent and possibly allow most township residents to see their fire protection ratings improve from a level 10 to a level 9.
"We've been told that the difference between a 10 and a 9 rating can be a savings of 10 to 30 percent on your homeowner's premium," Snodgrass said. "Right now we're sitting with 80 to 90 percent of our township with a 10 rating, and that's pretty bad."
The process for removing the township from the fire district is uncertain. Snodgrass said he was under the impression that the Osage County Commission and the fire board would have to agree to allow the township to be removed.
Walt Bigham, fire chief for the district, said his understanding was that if a petition with enough signatures was presented to the board, the board would be forced to remove the township. He did not know what percentage of townships residents would be required to sign the petition though. He also wasn't certain there was such widespread dissatisfaction with the level of fire protection in the township.
The fire district currently has a property tax levy of approximately 3.5 mills it uses to fund its operation. The mill levy, though, is ultimately approved by the Osage County Commission. That is problematic, Snodgrass said, since Marion Township residents aren't allowed to vote in Osage County elections. The fire board is also appointed by Osage County commissioners.
Snodgrass said the fire district board has offered to build and equip a fire station in the township, if Snodgrass and others can find donated land and volunteers to staff the station.