It fell to Moore County Fire Marshal Ken Skipper, during the Thursday, August 15 meeting of the Board of Commissioner and Great Seven Lakes Community Council, to explain what may have been the most confusing topic of the evening: a change in County fire insurance districts that did not include a change in response districts or fire tax districts.
Skipper said Moore County Public Safety noticed in 2011 that some insurance companies were placing homes in the wrong insurance districts when writing homeowners policies -- for example, assuming that homes in McLendon Hills were covered by Seven Lakes Volunteer Fire and Rescue instead of by Eagle Springs.
When Public Safety notified the companies of the error, some residents saw their rates increase -- and that produced complaints to both Public Safety and the Board of Commissioners.
The County's response was to commission a comprehensive study of the fire and EMS systems that may ultimately result in changes to the fire tax districts and the and fire and EMS response districts. But that process requires coordinated planning among the County's eighteen fire, EMS, and rescue agencies.
NC General Statutes allow the Board of Commissioners, within limits, to shift fire insurance district lines so that they are not exactly the same as response district or tax district lines.
In order to provide relief from high homeowners insurance rates to some landowners, the Board recently voted to change some lines. Skipper said the changes are projected to save homeowners as much as $300,000 in insurance premiums.
Tax Districts remain the same -- for now
One McLendon HIlls resident noted that his recently received County tax bill still places him in the Eagle Springs district. Skipper explained that the tax district lines have not changed, because changing them would have shifted substantial tax revenues from the Eagle Springs to the Seven Lakes fire department.
Another resident said insurance companies are unwilling to recognize the change in insurance district lines unless it is reflected in a national database. Skipper said Moore County GIS had created special maps to assist insurance companies. He estimated that roughly seventy percent of insurance companies have accepted the new lines, though there are holdouts.
"What we tried to fix first was simply insurance lines," Chairman Nick Picerno added. "The rest of it, we went through the study, and we're still looking at the actual tax district lines."
"The last thing the Board of Commissioners wants to do is to ruin what we have in our County," Picerno continued. "We have tons of volunteers that give their time, to go out in the middle of the night, to help people. And we do not want to hurt that morale by changing rates and so on."
"So, yes, the inequality still exists as far as how some people are charged, as far as their tax rates. And yes, we don't think that's right, and it doesn't make good common sense. But that's the way it was. And sometimes these things take time to fix them, and you want to fix them properly, correctly, one time, without destroying what you've built up over the years."
What about EMS coverage?
Former Seven Lakes West Board members Jane Sessler and Ron Shepard both raised the issue of EMS response districts, which became a hot button issue last year when the County changed its EMS procedures such that Seven Lakes EMS was no longer being called to medical emergencies in the areas of Seven Lakes West that fall within West End Fire & Rescue's district.
After protests from Westsiders, Public Safety implemented a "dual-call" system, alerting both EMS squads when a call comes in from anywhere in Seven Lakes West.
Shepard sought assurances that the dual-call protocol is still in place.
"That is correct," Skipper said. "it is not the most efficient way, but that is correct. In my opinion, we are wasting resources."