By Jessie Burchette
Only one of Rowan County’s 23 volunteer fire departments is seeking a tax increase for the 2008 fiscal year.
All fire departments will receive additional revenue because of revaluation.
But Enochville Fire and Rescue is also asking the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to raise its fire tax from 4 cents per $100 valuation to 6 cents.
The department made the same request last year, but commissioners rejected the request and said the fire department failed to provide adequate information to justify it.
Meanwhile, Cabarrus County commissioners approved an identical request. Cabarrus property owners in the Enochville district have paid 6 cents while Rowan residents paid 4 cents.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said last week that if Enochville expects to get the tax hike, fire department officials need to show up at the June 11 public hearing and make their case.
In a memo to the county, Enochville Fire and Rescue wrote that its board of directors agreed in February to pursue the increase to pay for part-time paid personnel.
The department plans to add two nine-hour shifts per day Monday through Friday in order to cover the times when the response rate is the lowest.
Like many other fire departments, the closing of Pillowtex cut sharply into the availability of volunteers. For decades, Enochville and other are fire departments depended on second- and third-shift workers to be available to answer daytime calls, but that pool of volunteers has dried up.
Darrell Nicholas, president of the Rowan Fire and Rescue Association, said Enochville is having tremendous trouble trying to respond. Response time has increased and the department depends on mutual aid response to pick up Enochville calls when the department doesn’t respond.
“The mutual aid system works; the citizens of the district are receiving coverage, but it has been at the expense of other districts,” Nicholas said. “Enochville doesn’t want that.”
Nicholas called the Enochville proposal, a no-brainer. “It’s very just. It’s needed.”
Response time is a crucial element of improving the department’s insurance or ISO rating. The countywide goal is to get all departments to an ISO 6, which is the rating that offers homeowners the biggest reduction on insurance. Many of the county departments are now at an ISO 9.
Five fire departments are currently rated a 6, while 10 departments have a rating of 9.
Start-up costs for the part-time program at Enochville, including staff and equipment, is expected to be $105,000.
If commissioners approved the tax increase, Enochville would receive $163,000 from Rowan taxes and $97,000 from Cabarrus for a total budget of $260,000.
A large chunk of that, $121,000 would go for debt service, equipment, repairs and maintenance of equipment.
The request last year for the 2-cent hike was the first since the department formed in 1974.
Commissioners voted to reject the hike after receiving phone calls from Enochville residents, some anonymous, saying the tax hike wasn’t need.
Chamberlain, along with Commissioners Chad Mitchell and Jim Sides voted to reject the tax.
Outraged fire department officials blasted commissioners and asked for a special meeting to reconsider the request, but commissioners declined.
According to county budget documents, the volunteer departments will receive a total of $3.1 million in the coming year, up nearly $400,000 from the original 2007 budgets.
Other departments across the county also have plans to add paid staffing.
For example, Atwell wants to add a third paid firefighter. In a memo to the county, Atwell officials point out that it takes three people to operate a fire scene ó one with the truck and two on hoses. Atwell plans to use part time personnel to fill the third slot, noting that several career firefighters live in the district and are willing to work for Atwell on their days off.
Atwell has $102,000 of its $285,000 budget earmarked for paid personnel.
More than half the volunteer districts now have paid personnel.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jessie Burchette