Mecklenburg County Land Use and Environmental Services Director Cary Saul gave a presentation at last Thursday’s Mint Hill Board of Commissioners meeting about creating fire districts to help the county offset the $2 million a year it gives volunteer fire departments.
However, Town Manager Brian Welch expressed a lukewarm reaction to the plan and said he would like to run more numbers before he recommends for the board of commissioners to sign on to the plan.
The county is looking to create fire districts that will be administered by five towns within the county. A new tax would be imposed on those living within the Extraterritorial Jurisdictions to help offset the cost of running VFDs. The towns would then be responsible for divvying up the funds to the VFDs.
Mint Hill gives $100,000 to the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department to service its debt on the current building, and buys a new truck for the department every five years. It also has 16 full-time firefighters on the town’s payroll. The town gives a direct donation of $174,000 to the Idlewild Volunteer Fire Department each year.
Saul told the board that the county cannot continue its current funding model for VFDs throughout the county. In an report to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners on January 4, Saul said that as urban growth in the county continues, VFD expenses rise.
He said that two VFDs recently closed—Mallard Creek and Newell—and the county doesn’t have a plan to provide fire service to those areas without contracting with the Charlotte Fire Department, a cost of about $900,000 for two stations.
The county gives VFDs within ETJ’s $137, 500 each year, in addition to worker’s compensation insurance, radio fees and fire marshal service. The county gives VFDs within town limits $87,500 each year.
Welch said that because each town has different amounts of ETJs, new fire service districts will not affect towns the same. Matthews, for example, would be not be affected as much by the new plan because they have already annexed all possible ETJ areas. Welch said that all the town managers have all discussed the possible plan.
“We’ve all been in a room to discuss the issue,” he said. “Some are against it, some are for it, but everyone’s situation is different.”
Saul told the Mint Hill Board that ETJ residents will probably have to pay 6 cents more per $100 in property taxes based on current VFD funding models. Current fire service for residents of ETJs are paid for by property taxes.
“Residents in incorporated areas get a great deal right now,” Saul said.
Mayor Ted Biggers said at the meeting he’s concerned about some of the ETJ residents who own large pieces of property and what an increase of 6 cents per $100 would do to their property tax bill.
“We have a lot of undeveloped property,” he said. “Would they be taxed the same way a homeowner is? I can see that being a terrible burden on some families.”
ETJ residents currently only pay Mecklenburg County property taxes and a tax for police service. The total tax value of Mint Hill’s ETJ is $340 million, so the town would get $204,000 from an increase in 6 cents per $100. However, the funds gained from a new ETJ tax may not include radio service, workers compensation, or fire marshal service if the town were to receive this money to pay for VFDs.
Welch is concerned about the affect fire districts would have on donations to the fire departments, especially if ETJ residents have to pay an additional tax.
He told the board he is still unsure if the numbers add up to where this move by the county would be beneficial for the town.
Saul said he will take the information provided by the town back to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners before the next move is made. Mint Hill Commissioner Lloyd Austin said he’s unsure Mint Hill should go along with the plan.
“It’s going to be hard situation to work out,” he said.
By the numbers:
Number of Volunteer Fire Departments in Mecklenburg County: 18
Cost to the county for each department: $87,500 for ETJs; $137,500 for VFDs in town limits
Mint Hill VFD budget: $640,000
Idlewild VFD budget: $498,000
Increase in taxes to ETJ residents if fire districts pass: $120 on a $200,000 home.