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Volunteer fire departments need to look at tax rate

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó According to documents sent to volunteer fire departments from the county, the tax base of the departments is expected to decrease by $2.8 billion in the next fiscal year.
Collectively, they would lose $139,434 in fiscal 2011-12 if they hold their tax rates steady. The documents then list the tax rates that would bring each of the departments to revenue neutral if their budgets stay the same.
Itís up to each fire district board to decide whether to raise taxes, but they must hold a public hearing to do so. The Rowan County Board of Commissioners decided Monday to include those hearings in its June 6 budget meeting.
If each revenue-neutral tax rate was adopted, districts with the largest rate increase would include Millerís Ferry (6 to 7.69 cents) and South Salisbury (7 to 8.14 cents). But Millerís Ferry is projected see a $28,500 revenue gain even with no increase, due to growth from a Duke Energy expansion. If Millerís Ferry adopted the ěrevenue neutralî rate, it would gain $98,000 over fiscal year 2010-11.
County Finance Director Leslie Heidrick explained that growth from new and improved property is factored into the revenue neutral calculation, resulting in a rate that would bring in more money than last year (a few thousand dollars each or less for most volunteer fire departments).
Rates in a few districts, including Union, Poole Town and East Gold Hill would stay nearly flat under this calculation. Most would increase by 0.3 to 0.7 cents.
At the county commissionersí meeting Monday, Commissioner Jim Sides said some fire departments could use surplus funds to avoid raising taxes.
Sides also brought up what he calls an annual ěwindfallî of funds from taxes collected beyond county projections, which arenít included in the fire departmentsí budget calculations and should be used to balance losses. These additional disbursements ranged from $1,000 to $51,500 this fiscal year.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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