Faison Fire & Rescue has been providing protection services within the Goshen Fire District for the last 50 years — beginning next year, those services will come with a tax.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners, upon a request by the Faison Fire Department, adopted a resolution to create a taxable service district in the portion of Sampson which is included in the Goshen Fire District.
County attorney Annette Chancy Starling has noted at previous meetings that there is a specific process that must be followed to establish a specially-taxed service district, which includes a public hearing regarding the board’s intentions to create the district and notification to people in the district. That public hearing was held earlier this month on the request, at which no one spoke in opposition. A notice of the hearing was mailed to each resident in proposed district.
“While the department has provided contracted fire services within the Goshen Fire District since 1962, the actual taxable service district has never been created,” said Starling. “(If approved), this tax cannot take effect until next year.”
The board subsequently gave its unanimous approval to creating a specially-taxed service district, to take effect July 2013.
Finance officer David Clack explained that the Faison Fire Department currently receives a county assistance allocation similar to other departments.
“It would be much like the Godwin-Falcon Fire Department, which is also located outside the county but has a taxable district within the county,” said Clack. “I don’t foresee Faison Fire Department’s allocation changing due to this. It would just be collecting taxes on top of that, because that’s the way we do every fire district in the county. They get a certain county assistance allocation as well as the fire tax.”
In 1959, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners established Goshen Fire District in Sampson as a service district. Faison Fire & Rescue began providing contracted services just three years later, in 1962, and for 50 years the district has never been taxed for services.
Faison fire officials, which have made strides in recent years to improve its Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating, approached the county about establishing a tax in order to help fund fire protection services being provided.
N.C. General Statute, notably “The County Service District Act of 1973,” states that the county board may establish such a tax district provided it finds that “it is economically feasible to provide the services in the district without unreasonable or burdensome annual tax levies,” and that there is both “a demonstrable need for the services” and “a demonstrable demand for the services by the persons residing in the district.”
Starling presented those stipulations to the county board, stating that the law allows counties to establish specially-taxed service districts without resorting to a voter referendum.
Allen Thornton, who lives in the district, said he like many others served by Faison Fire Department is a Sampson County resident, but part of Duplin County’s Faison community as well.
“The fire department in any community is an integral part of the community. I think we have an excellent department in Faison,” said Thornton. “As a matter of fact, they have done more and gone beyond the call of duty in a number of ways. As a result of the work and the training the dedicated group of men and women have done for many of us that live outside the city limits of Faison but are still in the district, we have had our fire rating reduced, which has saved us residents a lot of money in insurance protection on our homes and businesses.”
“So, as long as Faison Fire Department gets this money,” he said, “I can support this.”
Assistant county manager Susan Holder said she had received minimal feedback and inquiries about the proposed fire tax establishment. One caller told Holder that Faison had enough equipment.
Faison fire chief Lee Kennedy spoke to the need for the tax, a measure to maintain and continue the improvements made by the department in serving the district.
“We have lowered our insurance in the past two years, from a 9 to a 6,” said Kennedy. “Before that time, if you lived within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant you would receive a 6. Now, we have it dropped to where it doesn’t matter if you have a fire hydrant 1 mile or 10 miles from your house — in our district, you’re a 6.”
As for the caller who said the department had enough equipment, Kennedy said there can never be too much.
“You can never have enough equipment,” Kennedy said. “You always have to strive to buy new equipment because nowadays things are priced up and you have to replace equipment.”
Currently, the department has a rescue truck that is 30 years old, with 300,000 miles on it, used in part to conduct rescue technician services. Just in the past two months, the truck has gone down twice, necessitating that equipment be moved from that truck to another to respond to incidents, whether it be a wreck or another rescue.
“This money is needed to help us continue to do the job that we do,” said Kennedy. “We appreciate the support from Sampson County. We’ve always been here. I know Mrs. Starling said from 1962, but our department was established in 1934. My granddaddy was one of the founding members. When they started in 1934, that’s all you had. I think Halls and Piney Grove came in the 50s and 60s. Before then, we were there and we’ll still be there either way. We appreciate your assistance and what you’ve done in the past, and we’d appreciate your assistance in this.”
Emergency Management director Ronald Bass said Faison Fire & Rescue Department has been “very aggressive” in improving its fire protection rating and extremely supportive of the Sampson County Fire Association. “My hat’s off to those guys for that,” Bass said. “That takes a lot of work and is a big endeavor.”
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland made a motion to adopt the resolution establishing the specially-taxed service district.
“Based on the fact that there are no negative comments concerning this resolution and proposal, and there has been only one or so inquiries,” said Strickland, “it would be my opinion that this is what the citizens of that area want to do. They’re willing to go along with this program in order to receive services.”
The vote was unanimous. The tax will take effect in July 2013. Fire district tax rates are presented to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners as part of the budget process each year, and take effect July 1.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.