03/08/18 — Board hears fire tax increase request

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Board hears fire tax increase request

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 8, 2018 5:50 AM

A request for a 2.5 cent increase in the Waylin Fire District tax appeared to receive a favorable reception from Wayne County commissioners Tuesday.

The rate is currently 4.5 cents per $100 of property value.

But no action can be taken on any increase until the board adopts the budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

The request by Mount Olive Fire Chief Greg Wiggins also provided a springboard for Commissioner Wayne Aycock to admonish fire departments not to live beyond their means.

Aycock made a motion to accept the request, but Chairman Bill Pate said he was not sure the board could do that.

"This would be something that you would do at budget time," County Attorney Borden Parker said.

Aycock said he knew the board could not make the change in the middle of the year, but asked if the board could still agree to the request.

"I am just saying that we accept your presentation and give it high consideration when we look at the budget," Pate said.

Aycock, who has 50 years in the fire service, told Wiggins he did not know how the district had been able to operate on four and a half cents.

Pate said he did not know the rate was so low until he had visited Mount Olive to meet with Mayor Joe Scott.

Pate said he supports the request, but that commissioners have to wait until budget time to act on it.

"We are very conservative with our money," Scott said.

The town has a truck that needs to be replaced and that firefighters have been trying to find parts to keep the truck working until the town can find the funds for a new truck, he said.

Waylin, a combination of Wayne and Duplin, is the rural fire district that surrounds the Mount Olive Fire Department service area.

The department covers more 30.12 square miles with a population of 7,150. It includes 18.75 square miles in Wayne County, 8.7 square miles in Duplin County and 2.67 square miles inside the Mount Olive town limits, Wiggins said.

Wiggins presented a petition to commissioners signed by many residents in the Waylin Fire District.

Wiggins said he had spoken with many people in the district who support the increase.

In May 2010, the citizens of Duplin County approved a quarter cent sales tax earmarked for fire protection, Wiggins said.

In 2015, the town of Mount Olive raised its tax rate 5 cents. Both increases have helped, he said.

"The Waylin fire tax, on the other hand, has remained at four and a half cents since 1989," Wiggins said. "Even with tax reevaluations, the cost of doing business has far exceeded our income."

Wiggins said that in his 40-year career he has seen many changes in the fire service, all for the sake of firefighter and civilian safety, but at a hefty cost.

As more and more training has been required, it has put a strain on the volunteers' time, he said.

"As cost of equipment and business operations increase, it has also put a strain on our department's budget," Wiggins said. "In 1979, I paid for my own gear, helmet, coat, pants and boots -- $175.

"Today, the same gear is over $3,000, and we now have no-mex hoods and special gloves which were not required 30 years ago. All of this gear has a 10-year shelf life, is NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standard, and is more cost for the department."

Also, in 1986, a fire engine cost $126,000, in 1996 the cost had increased to $226,000 and in 2002 had risen $326,000, he said in the letter.

But the budget has not kept up with the increases, he said.

"We get a list of all of the departments every year of what their tax rate is," Aycock said. "I guess I overlooked that, but I commend you all for operating this long on four and a half."

"I certainly do not have a problem with us approving it at the proper time when we are working on the budget."

Aycock said he was not going to single out any departments, but that the spending habits of some departments have gotten completely out of hand.

"We are spending tax dollars," Aycock said. "Not all of the departments. We have departments like yours that are very conservative and spend money wisely. But I can't say that about all departments in the county."

Aycock said he knows he will catch a lot of heat for his comments.

Aycock said he supports the fire departments, but the county has some that are spending like "drunken sailors."

"It is time for somebody to step up and control some of it," he said. "Like I said, most fire departments are very conservative. What I ask you all is take this increase, if it is granted, and I feel confident it will be, and buy what you need, not what you want.

"There is a big difference buying what you need and what you want."

Aycock told commissioners that at some point they are going to need to look at how some of the money is being spent.