Cumberland County rural property owners will likely see a tax increase come July. The funding subcommittee of the county’s public safety task force is unanimously recommending a 0.375 cent increase in the special fire protection service district’s tax. There are 15 fire districts in unincorporated areas of Cumberland County plus Hope Mills and Spring Lake, which are supported by property tax assessments of 0.10 cents per $100 of valuation. Five small, low-wealth fire departments receive additional assessments of 0.125 cents per $100.
The subcommittee voted unanimously March 19 to request that the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners adopt the tax increase effective July 1, 2019.
“We have heard your concerns,” said Cumberland County Manager Amy Cannon. She and Fire Commissioner Marshall Faircloth predicted the board would go along with the increase.
Consultant Gregory Grayson of Envirosafe Fire Support Services told the committee that “the workload and need for fire and rescue services has increased significantly.” Fire departments have become “all-hazard agencies” requiring additional salaries and training for firefighters, he added.
He outlined the complexities of developing a new funding model for volunteer fire departments. The city of Fayetteville Fire Department is funded with salaried, full-time firefighters.
The proposed county tax increase would boost total fire and rescue spending from $7.4 million to $8.9 million for fiscal year 2020. A series of supplements, incentives and grants would augment the existing baseline. They would be provided to strengthen the county’s overall fire and rescue delivery system.
Supplements and incentives would be based on enhanced individual department performance. The low-wealth fire departments, including Beaver Dam, Bethany, Godwin/ Falcon, Stedman and Wade, would receive annual supplements of $83,000 each for firefighter staffing.
Some of the seven fire chiefs who comprise the funding subcommittee spoke out with mild objections to the funding formulas. “I sometimes feel that we’re caught in the middle,” said Cumberland Road Fire Chief Steve Parish. He said his department responds to 2,000 calls annually, while others with the same number of responses have larger populations and more funding.
“We responded to 1,900 calls last year,” Pearce’s Mill Fire Chief Ronnie Marley said. His department’s 2018 baseline was $812,000. That’s 58 percent more than Cumberland Road’s $472,000.
“I have noted the level of discomfort, but you have to look at the needs of the entire county,” Assistant County Manager Tracey Jackson told the committee.
“We are committed to this process,” Cannon added.
Because all 15 rural fire departments operate independently, their individual boards of directors will also have to approve the new funding methods before county commissioners can act. The Public Safety Task Force meets next month, and county officials hope the fire chiefs will have their approvals by then.