Despite the inclusion of funding to hire one full-time firefighter as well as part-time firefighters, Elkin taxpayers will see no increase in their tax rate in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Water rates will remain the same as well.
The tax rate will remain 55 cents per $100 valuation, with a minimum water bill of $15.50 and the water volume metric rate will stay flat as well, according to Town Manager John Holcomb as he presented the budget message during Monday’s Elkin Board of Commissioners meeting. Also, the downtown Municipal Service District tax will remain at 10 cents per $100 valuation, and will bring in $14,000.
Changes were approved in the schedule of fees, with some adjustments to youth sports league participation costs, an increase in tap fees to cover the rising cost of materials and adjustments to the fire inspection fees, with initial inspections being free and no fines being charged for any violations corrected immediately.
A key discussion point during the entire budget season was the status of personnel responding to calls with the Elkin Fire Department. The fire department has been relying on a staff of three paid personnel, one being the chief, who work 24 hours and then are off 48 hours with the rest of the personnel being volunteer staff who are paid for their training hours and hours on a call.
As the department is nearing the minimum roster limit by state regulations of having at least 20 firefighters, Chief Mike Morton has been stressing the need to do something to recruit more eligible members. The fire department has put out flyers and information in area restaurants and online, but despite their efforts, only one firefighter has joined.
To be sure the department meets the state requirement of having at least four firefighters respond to all fire-related calls, such as fire alarms and working fires, Morton and Holcomb have worked on a schedule to help ease the lack of personnel responding during peak hours, which are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. when volunteers are typically at their paying jobs.
The budget, which commissioners passed unanimously Monday, includes funding to hire a full-time firefighter for the 24-hour rotation, which would alleviate Morton where he can work Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., giving a second full-time firefighter during peak hours.
To add a third guaranteed firefighter during peak hours, the budget includes funding to hire part-time firefighters to work on 12-hour shifts during peak hours Monday through Friday, leaving the need for a fourth volunteer to run calls during the week.
In the evenings and on the weekends, there still will be just one paid firefighter on duty, but Morton said those are the hours volunteers are more readily available to respond to fire calls.
In beginning his presentation about the new schedule Monday, Morton shared an article with commissioners from a fire department in Leland, near Wilmington. The volunteer department, which as 80 members on the roster, had calls which were presented in an audit during which four firefighters didn’t respond and that department is being put on probation. If they cannot show they are meeting that requirement, then they could have their insurance rating classified as a 10, the equivalent of not having fire protection, instead of the 6 it has now. This would mean property owners’ insurance rates would increase.
Morton said the same could happen in Elkin if his department isn’t meeting the minimum state requirement of having four firefighters at calls.
The plan he presented puts three paid firefighters on duty 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; two on duty 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; and one on duty the rest of the time, with volunteers asked to respond with the paid firefighters.
The additional funding to make the personnel additions possible is $98,670, Holcomb said.
The budget passed following a motion by Commissioner J.L. Lowe and second by Commissioner Bob Norton.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.