By Ritchie Starnes, News Editor
Thursday, December 12, 2013 —
Property owners inside the service boundaries of the East Side Volunteer Fire Department will likely pay an extra 2 cents fire tax.
Officials contend the hike is necessary for the 55-year-old department to maintain its current insurance rating, which has netted all of the district’s homeowners a savings on their property insurance.
The department’s board of directors unanimously voted in favor of the additional tax Tuesday night. District members also favored the added tax, which would bring the department’s fire tax to 10 cents per $100 valuation.
The move would not go into effect until the next fiscal year, pending approval of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners.
If approved, a homeowner with property valued at $200,000 would pay an annual fire tax of $200, or $40 more with the extra tax.
Department officials say the extra revenue is needed for a number of reasons. Most notably, the department wants to maintain its current insurance rating of 6.
“We lowered our rating from 9E to 6,” said Robert Cranford, assistant chief and board member.
“That was a pretty big achievement for us. That was a major cost savings for the district.”
The improved rating netted an average annual savings of $228 on property insurance premiums for those inside the district, according to Stanly County Fire Marshal Michael Roark. There are more than 900 affected property owners inside the East Side district.
If approved, the fire tax rate increase will put East Side among the highest rates in the county.
“When you see a split rating such as a 5/9, it means that the district has two ratings. The first number indicates the rating for properties that are within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant,” Roark said.
“The second number indicates the ratings for properties that are beyond 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant.
“A 10 is the highest rating and it is given to any districts or areas that are classified as having no fire protection. A 9 indicates that the fire department meets all of the minimum standards that the state sets forth for fire departments,” Roark said.
Of the county’s 15 fire departments, 14 rely on volunteers.
“We have one fire district as low as 4 cents up to 10 cents,” Roark said.
“General statutes allow a maximum rate of 15 cents, but 10 cents is the highest in the county.”
To keep its insurance rating, East Side must continue to meet a specific criteria, which includes staffing levels, training and equipment.
East Side employs three part-time employees that work flexible daytime shifts. Fifty-four volunteers serve the department. Each of those volunteers are valued at $40,000 per year, compared to what it would cost in terms of paid personnel, according to East Side Fire Chief William Efird.
Efird said staffing was critical to obtaining the insurance rating acquired at the end of 2010.
Stanly County contributes $12,000 annually to each volunteer department.
“East Side matches that so we can have the added staffing,” Efird said.
“The staffing was a big part of getting our insurance rating for what they were able to do in administration. There’s no way we could have done that with only volunteers. We don’t want to lose that staffing.”
Another concern looming for East Side is the future widening of N.C. highways 24/27 and 73 East.
“All of this is still up in the air and gray at this point, but it looks like the widening of 24/27 will take our station,” Cranford said.
East Side maintains two stations, with the other on Laton Road. The one at 24/27 is its main station.
Department leaders want to begin preparing for the building of a new fire station in the event the Department of Transportation calls for the removal of the existing site.
DOT’s next phase calls for land acquisition, Cranford said.
Also looking ahead, the department wants to buy a new fire engine in three years, Cranford said.
East Side has not had a fire tax increase since 1988.
Call Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynews press.com.