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Cleveland seeks fire tax hike for new emergency building

CLEVELAND— Cleveland’s fire department wants to share a building with emergency medical services and the rescue squad, and it’s asking for a fire tax increase to help build it.
The Cleveland Community Fire Department will hold a public hearing about the proposed increase at 6 p.m. Sunday at Station 45, located at 11170 Statesville Blvd.
The department is asking to raise its fire tax rate by 2 cents per $100 of property valuation. Currently, the fire district has a tax rate of 6.61 cents, so the increase would bring it to 8.61 cents.
Before a new tax can be levied, the request must be approved by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners as part of the county’s budget.
Fire Chief Kenny Payne said he is proposing a co-operative location for the fire department, Rowan County EMS and the Rowan County Rescue Squad. It would be built beside the existing department and expand it.
“That’s unique in this county and never been done before, that I know of,” Payne said. “It’s going to save some money, because we’re basically not building three stations, we’re building one and forming a co-op with each other.”
At the public hearing Sunday, officials will explain the proposal to local residents and hear their questions and comments.
Last year, the county agreed to fund a temporary structure for an ambulance in Cleveland, in order to speed up slow response times in western Rowan. That modular unit will soon be ready, but fire and EMS officials say they will need something more in the future.
“Long term, we want them permanently up here in a building with us, and they share the same feelings,” Payne said.
After EMS officials agreed to join the co-op, the department then contacted the rescue squad, which currently has no nearby location.
In an emergency requiring heavy rescue capability, Cleveland must wait for a rescue squad truck to drive about 15 miles from its Julian Road headquarters in Salisbury.
“We’ve got industrial rescue and agricultural rescue… but we’ve got several scenarios that we can’t handle, really, until the squad gets here,” Payne said on Thursday. “Just like the wreck today on (U.S.) 70 that was a pin-in.”
With a new building, a heavy rescue truck could be housed in its own stall. He said fire personnel would operate the equipment while the rescue squad owns and maintains it.
If the tax increase is passed, Payne said, it would probably be three or four years before the department breaks ground on the new building. He said fire officials found just a few examples of the co-op model in North Carolina and have been studying them.
“We project the cost on that building would be $1.8 million, but that’s going to vary,” he said. “We can’t come up with plans yet, because we don’t have funding to hire an architect.”
The additional 2-cent tax would bring in somewhere around $80,000 per year for the fire department, Payne said.
Most of that money would be used for the planning and construction of the new co-op building, while some will be diverted toward an ISO upgrade for the department’s insurance rating.
Such an upgrade could save residents more money on their fire insurance than they pay for the tax increase, Payne said.
A bigger facility also would allow volunteer firefighters to sleep at the station during their shifts, he said. Right now, if there is a call at night, the volunteers have to rush from their homes to the station to get their gear and equipment.
Payne said the fire and EMS departments both like the idea of being able to work together in the same building. Each would have its own separate area, but personnel could mingle, talk and train with each other.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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