West Stanly fire tax rate to increase after decision at budget workshop

In a budget workshop Monday afternoon by a 4-3 vote, Stanly County’s commissioners agreed to an increase in the tax rate for the West Stanly Fire Department.

Commissioner Scott Efird made the motion for a one-cent increase in the tax from 10 to 11 cents, seconded by Chairman Tommy Jordan. Jordan and Efird voted for the increase, along with Commissioners Zack Almond and Peter Asciutto. Commissioners Mike Barbee, Lane Furr and Bill Lawhon voted against the motion.

Representatives from the WSFD had previously requested a 3.5-cent increase of the tax rate to 13.5 cents for each $100 valued.

“Part of the drive for the full 3.5 cent increase was that new Station 3,” Jordan said.

The chairman quoted Efird, saying Locust has maintained the position that the town will not have its own municipal fire department.

Efird said “it’s getting to the point where it’s financially doable. The $600,000 they got years ago, no. But you’re at $1.1 or $1.2 million now.”

He later added, with the new businesses such as Arby’s, a new urgent care facility and Burger King coming to Locust, “I’m not saying there is not a need. I just don’t know how high that need is” for the 3.5 cent increase. Efird then said he did not support the 3.5 cent increase.

Barbee said the increase would also go to salaries for new firefighters. He asked officials, “If you want a new station, how are you going to man it?” He said the answer to his questions was why the department needed the extra money: for salaries for new firefighters.

Using numbers from the county, Barbee noted the average increase of homes in the area because of revaluation was 22 percent. Hypothetically, a $200,000 home with a fire tax of 10 cents would pay $200, but if the value of the house went up 22 percent to $244,000, the tax bill goes up to $244.

“If you put that 3.5 cent increase on there, that same house that was $200 is now $329,” Barbee said.

He noted the WSFD budget had some “double charges for equipment for exercise” along with lot maintenance. Barbee also said the department is “going to have to do better getting things organized.”

County Manager Andy Lucas noted WSFD has five people on the clock 24/7 and wanted to increase that to six on each shift. He said the WSFD stated for each new firefighter, the budget would increase $140,000 for each new position.

Referring to the WSFD board, Lucas said, “I don’t mean to be ugly, but just that a lay person isn’t going to understand a financial statement.”

Lawhon said he was concerned that the department does not “have a good handle on the source of their funds and how they are going to use it.” He added a second concern for him is “raising people’s responsibility” for people who are “pinching pennies to find ways to buy groceries and pay bills.”

Barbee also mentioned a conversation with WSFD about being dispatched to calls out of the county, noting Stanly and Cabarrus have a reciprocal agreement to dispatch each other’s crew.

“Seems like we go over a whole lot more dispatches into Cabarrus County than they do into Stanly County,” Barbee said.

However, according to information obtained by the Stanly News & Press from Stanly 911 Communications Director Kyle Griffin, for this year, WSFD has responded to 33 calls outside of Stanly. Midland Fire Department in Cabarrus has responded to 31 calls in Stanly, with Georgeville responding once. Two Union stations, Fairview and New Salem, have combined for 11 calls in Stanly, with New Salem responding nine times and Fairview twice.

Jordan responded to Barbee’s comments about out of county dispatching, saying, “they’re not rolling on calls that they’re not getting dispatched to. They’re rolling on calls before the alarm goes out by about 60 seconds.”

“At the end of the day,” Asciutto said, “when (citizens) call 911, they want somebody there.”

Barbee responded: “Or they will just die most of the time, if you get down to it.” He then moved to leave the tax rate at 10 cents, seconded by Furr, but the motion did not get enough votes to pass.

A 1.5-cent tax rate increase motion also failed before the one-cent motion was passed.

Lucas noted the board will have to vote on it again at Tuesday’s final budget meeting.

Barbee commented after the vote that he felt “pretty bad about giving somebody that’s got this kind of budget request coming forth to be given a penny. I think they should get their act straightened up.”