By Jessie Burchette
Lack of volunteers has left a county fire department unable to respond to structure fires and medical emergencies.
In the past six months, Enochville Fire & Rescue has had 28 “no responses” ó calls with no Enochville firemen available to respond.
Now the Enochville Fire & Rescue Squad will get a 2-cent fire district tax hike to hire full-time personnel and provide quick response to emergencies.
And county commissioners may be looking at a countywide tax for 2009 to support the Rowan County Rescue Squad.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners, which rejected the Enochville tax hike last year, agreed to the higher rate Monday night.
The decision came after Fire Chief John Jenkins told the board how bad things have gotten.
He described how the closing of Pillowtex dried up the supply of volunteer firefighters available to answer calls in the daytime.
Most of the department’s volunteers now work out of town, and no one is available to raise the doors and take the equipment to emergency calls.
Jenkins said two of the no-response calls were fires. Others were first responder or health-related calls.
“We had two structure fires that were not answered,” Jenkins said. “That’s not acceptable.”
Instead, the community is getting service from neighboring fire departments, which takes longer.
He said response times have grown to 10 and 15 minutes, which he also called unacceptable.
Jenkins gave commissioners a detailed report on the department’s calls, responses and the plans to hire full-time firefighters.
“The community is suffering,” Enochville resident Fred Jordan said. “We don’t have people to respond. We need a tax increase.”
Cabarrus County commissioners agreed to increase the fire district’s tax rate from 4 to 6 cents last year.
Rowan commissioners rejected the increase last year after receiving a series of phone calls from Enochville residents opposing the hike. Commissioners also complained they didn’t get detailed financial information from the department.
This year, all departments submitted budgets to the county, giving much more information than in past years.
All departments are expected to receive additional money. Although the rates are unchanged, countywide revaluation will increase the taxes collected.
Commissioners Chairman Arnold Chamberlain, who has criticized the fire departments in the past, pledged to support fire departments and the Rescue Squad.
“Fire departments and the Rescue Squad can count on me,” Chamberlain said, facing a crowd that included large numbers of firefighters.
Chamberlain said he plans to work for a countywide tax to support the Rescue Squad, a nonprofit organization. Currently, the squad gets funding from the county, the United Way, grants and fundraisers.
In recent years, the idea of a countywide tax to support the squad has surfaced several times, including a countywide referendum on a squad tax. None of the proposals has ever reached a vote by commissioners.At one time, preliminary discussions focused on a 1-cent tax. With the current tax base, a 1-cent tax would net slightly more than $1 million. Chamberlain did not specify what amount of tax he will support.
Final approval on the county budget and fire taxes will come at the board’s meeting Monday night when a series of budget ordinances are approved.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jessie Burchette