Mayor presents detail on fire service finance options
Fire service and water pressure were at the top of the priority list for the Weddington Public Safety Committee during its Monday, Feb. 6 meeting. The special session was called to help identify and prioritize the safety issues the committee wanted to address as agenda topics for the coming year.
At the outset of the meeting, Mayor Walker Davidson gave a presentation reviewing the critical fire service decision facing Weddington. With the map of the Weddington fire district in the background, Davidson itemized the five options available and what the projected fiscal outcome would be depending on the choice the town will eventually make.
“We have two broad decisions to make, we can do nothing or we can do something,” Davidson said, “because we currently don’t control fire service in Weddington.”
If the town does nothing, one of two things will happen, Davidson said. Providence will either cease operations on March 2013 when they run out of money or they will merge with the Wesley Chapel Fire Department.
“What that will mean is that Wesley Chapel’s 2.2 cent tax rate would be overlaid (in) the Providence area,” Davidson said. “It also would throw us into a mixed insurance rating area, meaning some insurance costs for some homeowners will increase. Nobody wants this to happen, it’s number five on[council-members] list.”
Davidson next spoke of option two, merging the Providence and Wesley Chapel fire departments and the three scenarios that would effect the 24-hour/7 day a week staffing level that Providence currently provides. The Wesley Chapel service model is not 24-hour staffing and to offer that service would require an increase of the projected cost to 2.7 cents per hundred dollars of property valuation. The scenarios differ in continuing of the service at a higher tax rate; having the town of Weddington make up the difference in cost or discontinuing the 24-7 staffing service.
The third option that Davidson presented was maintaining the current system in place, where Providence Fire Department collects a $100 fire fee for each home in the district, Wesley Chapel Fire Department is paid the current 2.2 cent tax rate over the areas in their district and the town of Weddington supplements the revenue deficit of the Providence VFD.
Option four in Mayor Davidson’s presentation, asks that the County Commissioners to expand the Providence Fire District, increasing its geographic area more appropriate to the service area it covers. The level of service is the response time from the station to a structure fire or medical call. The reduction in Wesley Chapel’s district is projected to increase the current tax rate from 2.2 cents to 2.5 cents for Weddington property owners currently served by Wesley Chapel.
The Providence fire district would be converted to a fire tax with a projected rate of 3.1 cents per hundred dollars property valuation. Of the five current fire tax districts in Union County, Wesley Chapel has the lowest rate and Hemby Bridge VFD the highest at 4.93 cents. The Stallings Volunteer Fire Department covers a portion of Weddington as well and their rate is 4.28 cents per hundred. As a comparison, the assessed property value of the Wesley Chapel fire district is second only to Union County itself.
The fifth option Davidson offered was the creation of a municipal fire district, where Weddington separates from the County fire service district and funding models, thereby establishing its own fire service district. Weddington would fund fire protection from its tax revenues and contract with the three fire service vendors, currently serving the town. Davidson projects that the cost to provide fire protection under this scenario will be 3.0 cents, bringing the total tax rate for Weddington residence 4.2 cents and increase of 1.2 cents over the town’s current rate.
Davidson closed his presentation stating that no-one on the council wants Providence to close and that most members rank moving the lines to be the best scenario going forward.
After the mayor’s presentation, the board approved the minutes from the previous meeting, followed by a discussion where Chairman Mike Smith solicited topics of interest that the board would like to address in future meetings. Board members then prioritized the topics into a list with the top three items being a review fire department service statistics and low water pressure problems; review contract policing and examining call statistics and reviewing the EMS service and response efficiency.
Road safety issues, firearms, hunting and animal control are other items on the list as well as are two unique topics; the development of a coyote data collection system and a ‘Connect-ED’ style of phone system for town-government to resident communication.