The Transylvania Times -

Guest Column: Tax Increase Proposed For North Transylvania Fire District

 

June 3, 2019



The county commissioners received a budget proposal last Tuesday evening to increase the fire tax rate in North Transylvania’s fire district from 14 cents to 21.39 cents per $100 to meet the budgetary needs of the department.

Last year, the county commissioners approved supplementing the tax income with money from the General Fund to fulfill the budget needs, but have elected to pass this amount on to the district’s taxpayers for the new fiscal year. This will be compounded by the 10.5 cents increase that has also been approved to pay for the school bond, resulting in a total increase specific to North Transylvania of 17.89 cents. Note that this is the proposed increase only, not the total tax amount.

North Transylvania Fire Rescue has worked diligently over the years to be extremely fiscally responsible and conservative with spending while still providing the services that the citizens depend upon. North Transylvania responds to medical calls, automobile accidents, structure fires, wildfires, search and rescue, and more.

The department has one paid firefighter providing coverage Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but when he needs assistance all other response is through volunteers. And, volunteers bear the full responsibility of all responses on the weekends, every evening and night, and every early morning. Equipment is aging and failing, and the response needs are growing with an increased number of all types of calls.

Last year, the commissioners approved the purchase of a new truck for North Transylvania that will replace two aging and failing trucks, and they did so knowing that there would be the additional annual payment due for many years to come. Now, they are deferring that expense back to the citizens of the North Transylvania district exclusively, even though the department provides mutual aid response throughout the county.

An alternative countywide fire funding approach was explored last year, but was ultimately voted down by the commissioners. That approach was to create a single flat fire tax rate county-wide, and to then fund the fire department budgets out of that pool of funds. That amount would have been 8 cents.

Now, instead, North Transylvania is faced with a much greater amount of 22 cents.

The flat tax would have created a minimal increase in taxes for two of the eight fire districts, but the other six districts would actually have seen a decrease in their taxes. That’s right - the majority of the property owners in Transylvania County would have seen their taxes go down. It’s extremely hard to understand why this wasn’t approved.

One of the primary issues within our county is the tax pool within each individual district. Since the tax rate is dependent on overall taxable property within a district, there are districts that have an obvious financial advantage.

One way to look at it clearly: A single cent of fire tax in Lake Toxaway’s district nets $166,700 in revenue for that district, while that same single cent in Balsam Grove’s district only nets $9,055. North Transylvania is also on the lower end, as a single cent nets $12,729.

So, based on the current approach to funding, those districts with higher tax values have much more funding at their disposal for providing emergency services while other districts struggle significantly. As such, the districts that have a more elite group of property owners have much more more funding available. The districts that have a more average or lower income group of property owners suffer financially

North Transylvania would like to see all of the citizens within the county have equal access to the level of emergency services provided, regardless of the worth of their properties.

North Transylvania Fire Rescue encourages the citizens of their district to learn more about this funding dilemma and to reach out to your commissioners to express any concerns you may have with this proposed tax rate increase. Without the county commissioners approval of supplementing the district’s budget with the General Fund as they did last year, the only way to avoid a tax rate increase is to decrease the services provided when 911 is called for any emergencies within the district.

Citizens are also encouraged to learn more about the flat tax and other funding options available, and to reach out to the commissioners to ask for a fair and sustainable approach to funding.

Other county departments will face funding challenges in the future as well, and unless a long term solution is implemented, then it’s highly likely that other districts will see increased tax rates in the years to come.

(Editor’s note: Taylor wrote this on behalf of the Board of Directors of North Transylvania Fire Rescue.)

 
 

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