08CCTaskForceSeven years ago, a local public safety task force issued a report that the group had spent two years working on. It was described as a comprehensive review of fire departments, EMS and
emergency communications. 

The report outlined recommendations for service improvements. The task force went so far as to recommend creation of a special sales tax to adequately fund increased public demands for service. Details as to how proceeds from a sales tax would be shared have not been worked out. But such a tax is still the top priority of the revitalized public safety task force.

Members didn’t meet again until this month. Only a couple of the recommendations from 2010 have been enacted. One of them is close to completion: the creation of a joint City/County 911 emergency
call center. A separate task force working on that project has until the end of this month to agree on a governing board and how to share responsibility. 

Assistant County Manager Tracey Jackson is attempting to reduce a budding turf battle so as to qualify the City and County for state grants. As for the other task force, funding remains the agency’s top priority. And a dedicated sales tax is now called an “immediate need.” The 2010 report was made to county commissioners and the elected boards of municipal governments in Cumberland County. It concluded that “without fundamental funding changes, required system changes cannot be accomplished.” 

Freddie Johnson, president of the Cumberland County Fire Chiefs Association, told members of the task force that declines in residential property values disclosed this year have cost
12 of the County’s rural fire departments more than $265,000 in lost revenue. Pearces Mill, Stoney Point and Vander fire departments took the biggest hits with individual losses of more than $44,000. Only three volunteer departments benefited from increases in property values. Cotton Fire Department in suburban Hope Mills gained nearly $112,000 in new tax revenue. Rural fire departments are primarily funded by a 10-cent fire district tax. A few low-wealth fire districts receive small supplements from the County. Municipal fire departments in Fayetteville, Hope Mills and Spring Lake are supported by regular property taxes. 

Rural fire departments hope to implement a system whereby the closest available unit would respond to a 911 call regardless of jurisdiction. The Fayetteville Fire Department has had that capability for some time. 911 dispatchers can identify the location of fire engines and squads on a real-time map and send the closest unit to the emergency. Chiefs of the various departments in attendance at the meeting also agreed it is desirable to establish clear public expectations of emergency responses for all County fire departments. As a practical matter, though, small departments which are totally dependent on volunteers cannot be expected to respond to emergency medical rescues at the same level of expectation as wealthier departments who maintain round-the-clock paid staffs.

The task force chiefs agreed to meet monthly in order to keep public safety priorities and needs alive.                                             

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