BY KARISSA MILLER
The Iredell County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to create a new fire protection service district that covers the majority of the county following a public hearing on Tuesday.
County officials believe the new tax district, which will finance fire protection throughout the county — with the exception of the Town of Mooresville and City of Statesville – is a better way to fund equipment and personnel.
The district will have a tax rate of 9 cents per $100 valuation, which is the existing countywide fire tax rate. The majority of Iredell County residents will not see a tax increase when the plan goes into effect on July 1, 2020.
Property owners in Mount Mourne, Shepherds and Stony Point will see the largest increase in their fire tax. Homeowners in those areas who live in a home appraised for $200,000 will pay $40 more a year in taxes.
Meanwhile, residents in the Troutman response area who live in a similar home will see a tax increase of $30 annually.
The revenue generated by the tax will cover operating expenses, staffing, apparatus replacement, insurance, hydrants, radio replacements and debt service.
Although the tax rate will be level across the county, appropriations from the tax revenue will be spent based on the needs of each department.
Fire Services and Emergency Management Director Kent Greene recommended that commissioners create the new district. The new plan will help the county address staffing issues associated with the decline in volunteers, he said.
Before Tuesday’s public hearing, Greene gave a brief presentation that showed a map of the proposed district, funding and other various requirements.
During the public hearing, Cool Spring Volunteer Fire Chief Andy Webster endorsed the plan. His board also sent a letter in support of it.
Chairman James Mallory referred to the letter, which stated the board of directors believe it will be beneficial to not only to the Cool Spring department but the entire county fire service.
Sam Hall also encouraged commissioners to pass the plan without reservation.
“This is good cheap insurance and will help get the trucks out the door,” Hall said.
One resident, Richard Pasccolini, asked if commissioners would consider placing a cap placed on the amount a property owner paid during each property re-valuation cycle.
County Attorney Lisa Valdez explained that there’s no cap on the re-valuation process, which is required by law. There is an appeal process.
Mallory said the board could reduce the fire service tax rate as the county’s tax base grows and the fire departments’ needs are met.
“What we are trying to do is make sure we aren’t duplicating expenses,” Mallory said.
All fire departments will remain as 501(c) private corporations and contract with the county to provide a service as they have done in the past.
Commissioner Gene Houpe thanked the fire volunteer firefighters and chiefs for their service to the county and for working with Greene on the plan.
“It’s been a long process and we wanted to get it right,” said Houpe.
Greene also expressed his appreciation for the departments represented and said that the plan would not have been possible without their help and input.
He also told commissioners that he did not receive any negative feedback from the public. He said he answered 57 calls from residents who had questions or wanted for more information.