Wake Forest poised to OK tax hike for fire station

sbarr@newsobserver.comJune 13, 2014 

— The Board of Commissioners is poised to approve a $56 million budget that includes a 1-cent property tax increase to help fund a new fire station.

During a budget discussion last week, the commissioners narrowly agreed to support the increase by an informal vote of 3-2.

The commissioners will vote Tuesday on the full budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The Wake Forest Fire Department is a private, independent organization that serves both the town and Wake County. The town provides most of the department’s funding.

Many of the town’s elected officials and staff members have expressed concerns about whether the county’s contribution is adequate. The county provided $700,000 of the department's $4.4 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, compared with $3.8 million from Wake Forest.

Fire Chief Ron Early said he expects the new station at the intersection of Jenkins Road and Fullard Drive to respond to about 500 calls each year, with half in the town and half in the county.

Early said the county should contribute more to department’s budget, but it’s not clear if or when that will happen. The new station is needed to ensure the department responds quickly to town calls, even though county residents also will benefit, he told the commissioners.

“Unfortunately, the county is riding the coattails of the town,” he said.

The county has commissioned a third-party study to examine the funding model used to distribute costs between the county and the county’s municipalities.

Commissioners Margaret Stinnett, Anne Hines and Jim Thompson indicated they would support the increase, while Commissioners Zachary Donahue and Greg Harrington indicated they would not.

Donahue said it seemed premature to ask residents to pay more before seeing the final report.

“There’s no question that the town is already paying more than its fair share of the fire service burden,” he said after the meeting.

Donahue said he doesn’t want to set a precedent that shifts costs to municipal taxpayers.

Early told the commissioners he expects the portion of town calls at the new station to increase as Wake Forest grows.

He urged them not to wait to help fund the station.

“We’re trying to catch it now, before the growth explodes,” he said after the meeting.

The town's impact fees support the fire department's capital costs, such as building and equipment, while the fire tax pays for operating costs such as staff.

Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah

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