Elizabethtown Town Council discuses how to raise revenue for fire positions

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

ELIZABETHTOWN — The town of Elizabethtown is considering how to raise revenue to fund firefighter positions that will cease to be covered by a grant at the end of this year.

In 2016, the Council approved accepting a SAFER grant for the addition of five positions at the Elizabethtown Fire Department. At the time, concern was voiced over how the positions would be funded when the grant expires, which is set to happen in November. Reapplying for the grant is not an option, according to staff.

At Tuesday’s retreat, Council members heard about the nine months that will remain in the fiscal year when the grant expires this fall. According to Elizabethtown Finance Officer Jay Leatherman, maintaining three positions with benefits will run the town $103,370. Funding all five will carry a $170,820 price tag.

“Can you live with three instead of five?” Councilman Ricky Leinwand questioned Fire Chief Nick West.

“Ideally, we’d like to have five,” West responded, adding current staffing allows for five employees during the workday and three each during the evening and night shifts. Reducing the staffing by two would cut the evening and night shifts, which he said are busy times for the department.

Leatherman presented numerous options for raising revenue, including:

— Annexing additional properties that are already on town water and sewer. Approximately $6 million in property value would be added to the tax base, drawing in an additional $37,000 in revenue.

— Increasing the fire district (an area that extends from the town’s borders out approximately six miles) tax rates by $0.03, which would bring in another $60,000.

— Increasing fire inspection fees, which could result in an additional $10,000.

— Increasing taxes $0.025 from $0.615 to $0.64. Taxes have not been raised, Leatherman said, since 2008, and doing so would bring in another $67,000.

— Instituting a 5 percent occupancy tax, which could generate $19,000 annually.

“I’m not going to vote for this,” Councilman Dicky Glenn offered immediately. “It’s important the fire chief and the fire department get what they need, but …”

“The problem is we replaced volunteers with paid staff,” said Councilman Howell Clark. “That was my concern when we did this, and now where are the volunteers?”

“Our fire department is not unique in this,” responded Town Manager Eddie Madden. “In order to meet needs and respond to calls, we’ve got to do this. The question is, how do you make that happen?”

When Councilman Paula Greene questioned whether the occupancy tax would prohibit future development, fellow Councilman Ricky Leinwand responded anyone in the industry would know the tax was part and parcel of the industry, and added he had “never been to a place that didn’t have one of these taxes.”

Greene also raised concern about how to administratively ensure the town received the tax money from inns and reiterated she would not vote for it.

An occupancy tax would have to be approved by the N.C. General Assembly. The Board did not spend substantial time discussing the other options for increasing revenue but did seem to think annexation was a sound idea.

As staff were simply seeking input for future direction, no action was taken.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

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Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal