Wake Forest mulls tax hike for fire department’s new station

sbarr@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

— Officials may consider spreading a two-cent property tax increase across two years to help fund the town’s fire department.

As budget season gears up, fire department officials will seek the tax increase, raising the town’s rate of 51 cents, to support operations at a new station.

Officials originally had anticipated asking for the two cents upfront, but now say they anticipate spreading it across two years.

“We wouldn’t have too much money too soon,” Fire Chief Ron Early told the city’s Board of Commissioners at a discussion of the department’s budget earlier this year.

The town contracts with the fire department, which is an independent non-profit agency.

The fire department last received an increase in its portion of the tax rate in 2008.

Early said the fire station chooses to wait until a tax increase is a necessity rather than asking for minor increases year by year.

“We just wait until there’s a really big need, but that also means there’s going to be a big jump,” he said.

While the fire department would be able to build a new station without the additional funding, it would be unable to staff it, said Early.

The capital costs of construction can be paid for with town development impact fees and other sources, but the department still needs an increase to fund its operating costs, Early said.

The fire station would be built at the intersection of Jenkins Road and Fullard Drive, west of Capital Boulevard, and serve both the town and Wake County residents. The station is needed to improve response times in the area, according to the department.

Mayor Vivian Jones said the staggered tax increase seems like a preferable option for the town.

“I’m excited that maybe we can consider a penny this year instead of two pennies,” she said.

While county residents also will benefit from the new station, both town and fire officials were skeptical county commissioners will contribute any additional funding.

Town Manager Mark Williams said he’s raised the issue with county officials before without success. Even if the new station were already built, the county may not be willing to increase its contribution, he said.

“It’s going to have to be a political discussion,” he said.

During the 2013-2014 budget year, the fire department had a budget of $4.4 million, with $3.8 million from the town and $700,000 from the county, with the latter dedicated to specific stations.

If the fire department secures the funding it needs for the new station during budget negotiations this spring, the station could open in the summer of 2015.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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