The Mecklenburg County Commission on Tuesday approved the creation of new Fire Protection Service Districts and a new fire service tax on property in the county’s unincorporated areas. The new tax will take effect July 1 and is expected to range from about 4.5 to 7 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Fire service in the affected areas currently is paid from the county’s general fund, which means all county residents pay for services used only in those areas. But county officials said in a report to the county commission last month that the current funding approach is “unsustainable.”
The change approved Tuesday shifts the cost of the service directly onto those who receive it by setting up new new fire tax districts near existing municipalities. Money from the new annual tax will pay local municipal and volunteer departments for fire service.
Tuesday’s votes established five districts: four covering the unincorporated areas (extra-territorial jurisdictions, or ETJs) near Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mint Hill, and a fifth in the City of Charlotte’s ETJ and an area south of Pineville.
During Tuesday’s meeting, County Code Enforcement chief Jim Bartl said the estimated tax impact would be 4.5 cents per $100 of assessed value in the ETJs of Davidson and Cornelius, and about 5 cents in Huntersville. The exact amount of the tax won’t be known for a few months. Local governments will set the amount of their fire budgets this spring and the county commission will set the tax rate as part of its budgeting for 2012-13.
Harley Cook, president of the Mecklenburg County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, said said during a public hearing before Tuesday’s vote that his group supported the change. He said the idea of separate fire districts and taxes first came up 20 years ago, and has been raised five times since then, but this year marks the first time it has made it to a county commission vote.
Huntersville town commissioner Charles Guignard also spoke, praising the many volunteer firefighters in the audience. But he objected to the idea of shifting payment for the fire service from the county’s general fund budget to a separate fire tax. He noted the new tax would pay for the service, leaving the county with extra money in its general fund. “We’re adding taxes. Are we going to take away taxes?” he asked.
In discussion before the vote, County Commission vice-chair Jim Pendergraph said he would support the change. He noted that as a resident of an unincorporated area of the county, was the only commissioner who actually would pay the extra tax. “I think it’s worth 4 1/2 cents,” he said.
The county already levies a separate tax for police protection in unincorporated areas. The Mecklenburg County Law Enforcement Service District tax is 18.66 cents per 100 dollars of assessed value. That’s on top of the county tax rate of 81.66 cents.
RELATED COVERAGE AND LINKS
April 4, 2012, Mecklenburg County Commission post-meeting summary,.
Agenda for April 3, 2012, Mecklenburg County Commission meeting, with links to related documents
Feb. 21, 2012, DavidsonNews.net, “Commission to set hearing on fire districts, consider tax cap”
Feb. 21, 2012, Mecklenburg County Fire Protection Service Districts Report (PDF), including town-by-town maps of the proposed fire districts and a description of how the proposed changes would work.
Feb. 15, 2012, DavidsonNews.net, “County to adopt new fire tax in unincorporated areas.”