LEE COUNTY: Rate increase recommended for majority of fire districts

May. 22, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Fire tax rates in more than half of the county's fire districts are expected to increase in the coming fiscal year, Lee County Fire Advisory Board Chairman Donald Andrews said this week.

Andrews, who also serves as Broadway mayor, presented the recommended budgets for the nine fire departments for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, during the Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday.

"The folks in Lee County are blessed," Andrews said. "The volunteers do an outstanding job for the citizens, and it's a good investment for us. After dealing with these budgets for the last six or seven years, I know how much work and effort they put into it. We are blessed to have some good folks who care about their community."

Andrews highlighted each of the department's requests and explained how the recent change in the fire service districts and 2013 property tax revaluation impacted the respective budgets.   

Here's a breakdown of the departments, according to Andrews:

* Cape Fear Fire Department

The fire tax rate for Cape Fear is recommending to increase from $0.092 per $100 valuation to $0.100. The department recently remodeled its main station and is requesting to increase the part-time staff from 40 hours to 80 per week. This will allow for the department to have two paid members on duty Monday through Friday during the day.  For the last five years, the department has used 40 hours of part-time staff to provide daytime coverage. 

* Carolina Trace Fire Department

The recommended fire tax rate for Carolina Trace is set at $0.081 per $100 valuation, up from $0.075. Originally, the department requested the rate of $0.088 to fund a new building addition and increase their staffing. The Lee County Fire Advisory Board recommended a compromise so they could fund one or the other.

* Clearwater Fire District

The tax rate for the Clearwater Forest and Waverly Place is recommended to remain at $0.186 per $100 valuation. The city of Sanford did not indicate a change in its $36,000 contract with the county.

* Deep River Fire Department

The rate for the Deep River Fire Department is projected to remain at $0.113 per $100 valuation, but only after the department cut $20,500 out of its original budget request. This is the third consecutive year that Deep River has cut its budget in an effort to keep the tax down, which is of concern, Andrews said, because the department has an aging fleet of vehicles.

* Lemon Springs Fire Department

With the largest call volume, the Lemon Springs Fire Department is set to increase its fire tax rate by half a cent from $0.091 per $100 to $0.096. The department saw a decrease in its tax base by $14 million and is facing a shortfall in its fund balance.

* Northview Fire Department

The rate for the Northview Fire Department is set to increase from $0.081 per $100 valuation to $0.087. The original budget showed a $53,842 increase from the current year and would have increased the budget to $0.094. The advisory board and fire department expressed concern about the large jump, and the board of directors of Northview Fire Department met to cut the proposed budget. The board, however, was unable to meet with a quorum before the advisory board had to turn the budget recommendations in to the county. The fire advisory board recommended the $0.087 but would welcome additional cuts once the board of directors meets.

* Northwest Pocket Fire Department

The Northwest Pocket Fire Department fire rate is recommended to remain at $0.129 per $100 valuation. With the redistricting, Northwest Pocket will see an increase of $17 million in its tax base from the Tramway district, but it will still have the smallest tax base of any of the districts. 

* Tramway Fire Department

The Tramway Fire Department fire rate is recommended to increase by one cent from $0.079 to $0.089. Tramway lost more than $27 million in its tax base because of the shifting of the fire service districts. Tramway requested a $9,200 increase in its budget for truck maintenance but cut the funds after meeting with the fire advisory board. 

A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. June 3 to discuss the fire departments' proposed budgets, and the commissioners will vote on the rates when the board approves its budget ordinance.