Fire commission to look at new system, including fees for colleges and churches
Churches, colleges and government entities might start getting a fire fee bill, under a new system being studied by the Union County Fire Commission. Under the current setup, all three are exempt from being billed.
“I’m trying to be fair,” County Commissioner Jonathan Thomas, who serves as the board liaison to the Fire Commission, said. “Right now, government offices, universities and churches use the fire services, but don’t have to pay.”
Thomas pointed out several churches offer daycare and other services to the community. Those programs require a permit fee in most cases, which has to be renewed, much like an annual fire fee would be. Right now, the county operates a system split in half, with some districts charging a tax rate which varies per building, while others collect a fire fee, set at a maximum of $100 per single family home. Three departments, Allens Crossroads, Providence and Wingate, operate at the maximum. The proposed system, Thomas said, would operate in a similar fashion. Buildings like a town hall would be charged the same as homes in the district. The same would go for each building at Wingate University or at churches, like Weddington United Methodist.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Pat Thomas, a member of Weddington United Methodist, said. “If the federal and state government can’t tax churches, why should the county be allowed to? I don’t care what you call it, a fee, a tax, a donation, it’s still the same thing in the end.”
Mark Cooper, who attends First Baptist Church in Monroe, said he felt the same way.
“We already pay for the fees as county citizens,” Cooper said. “Individually, we pay as part of our tax bill. Now, if this passes, we would be taxes twice, once at home and again at church. It’s not right.”
Thomas said he understood people aren’t used to the idea, but as the county struggles to fund departments, he also feels the need to be fair, with the idea if someone uses the services, they need to pay.
“I’m a Wingate alum, I want to support them, but we have some serious problems to address,” Thomas said.
Funding problems exist for many of the departments using fire fees. Under the new budget, Bakers will increase fees to $65 per single family dwelling, Beaver Lane will move to $76.17, Fairview will be $70.08 and Stacks Road will see an increase to $78.80 under the proposed budget.
Griffith Road, Jackson, Lanes Creek, New Salem and Unionville all reduced their fire fee. Additionally, all five departments using a fire tax – Hemby Bridge, Mineral Springs, Stallings, Waxhaw and Wesley Chapel – expect to break even this year. Hemby Bridge will have a tax rate of 4 cents per $100 of assessed property, Springs will have a 3.1 cent tax rate, Stallings will come in at 4.2 cents, Waxhaw Fire Department will be at 3.7 cents and Wesley Chapel will be at 2.2 cents. Both Stallings and Wesley Chapel kept the same tax rate from last year, even with Wesley Chapel’s construction of a new fire station. The other three barely increased, with hikes of less than three tenths of a cent.
Thomas added the proposal was still in very preliminary stages, set to be discussed at the July meeting of the Fire Commission.
Restructuring on the way?
Some changes could also be coming to the Fire Commission itself, as Thomas said he wants to look at reconstituting the board. Instead of political appointees, it would instead consist of fire chiefs or members from their departments. Currently, anyone can apply for the positions.
“Right now it’s a political machine,” Thomas said. “This should be the chiefs, the departments telling us their needs, not us handing down our political agendas.”
As part of the restructuring, Thomas said, he would want the county commissioner who serves on the fire commission to be a non-voting member. A date for the July fire commission meeting has not been set.