NC county fire tax increase may pay for more firefighters

The increase, 2.3 cents per $100 in valuation would amounts to a total fire tax rate of 8.7 cents per $100 in valuation

Charlotte Wray
Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C.

HENDERSON, N.C. — Volunteer fire departments may gain more employees within the next year, but not without a tax increase, some Vance County commissioners say.

On Monday, County Manager Jordan McMillen proposed a fire-district tax-rate increase that would provide funding for two part-time positions at each volunteer fire department in the county and one in those that border the county.

The increase, 2.3 cents per $100 in valuation, would be paid by residents outside the Henderson city limits. This amounts to a total fire tax rate of 8.7 cents per $100 in valuation.

Though the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $23 more per year in taxes, the savings on homeowner’s insurance premiums, McMillen argues.

If the additional staffing helps volunteer departments improve their insurance ratings, premiums would drop, with the most likely change there saving policyholders about $66 per year.

Not only will a tax increase potentially result in savings, it will help add staff to improve fire response times, McMillen’s proposed budget said.

The fire-district tax is the only proposed tax increase for the upcoming year. The general-fund property tax rate, solid waste household fee, and water usage rate would remain the same.

Though there wasn’t much debate over the tax increase during Monday’s meeting, commissioners seem to be split on the matter.

This tax increase coincides with a proposed reorganization of local fire departments that would eliminate the Vance County Fire Department and re-distribute its staff to some of the volunteer fire departments.

According to McMillen, some commissioners will advocate for this reorganization, arguing they could provide staff at rural stations without expanding taxes.

“But there’s some negatives to that too,” McMillen said. “Then there’s this argument, which is, you raise the fire tax increase and you put the part-timers out there and you leave our county fire department intact, the way it is.”

The latter option is the proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year budget, where a tax increase would help pay for new positions without major organizational changes. According to McMillen, the tax would generate about $406,000.

If approved, the county would reimburse $43,663 per position, per year, if it is fully staffed for 60 hours a week Monday through Friday. The volunteer departments would hire and manage the staff themselves.

Six fully in-county departments would get funding for two positions, while two that cover parts of Vance but are primarily responsible for other counties, Drewery and Epsom fire departments would get enough for one. This totals 14 positions.

Departments would also get funding to replace radios. An allocation of $159,904 from the fire fund balance would cover the expense.

“Each department would receive seven portable radios and one mobile radio in [fiscal] 2019-20,” the manager’s budget request said. “Additional changes include increasing financial reporting $9,000 due to the upcoming year being an audit year for departments and also an increase of $12,000 to cover mobile service for the mobile data terminals implemented this current year. Recurring funding would remain at $100,000 per department with border departments receiving $67,500. Rotating capital remains at $30,000 and substation funding for Hicksboro ($10,000) is eliminated.”

The fire tax and the fire service district were established almost 20 years ago in 2002, “with the purpose of funding fire departments to provide fire protection services to the rural parts of the county,” the budget said.

The overall budget focused on increased public safety across all law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

“This budget focuses on improving rural fire protection and enhancing overall public safety,” the budget noted. “This includes providing funding for part-time positions at volunteer fire departments and the rescue squad, replacing a portion of Viper radios for public safety departments, and providing staffing increases for the sheriff’s office.”

Commissioners are slated to discuss the budget during work sessions on May 20 and 21.

On June 3, during the regular meeting, a public hearing will be held and residents can speak to the board.

According to McMillen, there won't be much discussion from the board at the June meeting, unless major changes arise from citizen input.

They will either approve the budget on June 3 or have another work session and call a special meeting to adopt the budget soon after, before the end of June.


©2019 Henderson Daily Dispatch, N.C.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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