[This story originally appeared in the March 6, 2015 edition of the Seven Lakes Times.]
Seven Lakers could see a significant increase in their fire tax rate, if a plan to unify Moore County’s sixteen separate fire tax districts is approved by the county’s Board of Commissioners.
The Commissioners set the process in motion during their regular Tuesday, March 3 meeting, calling for a public hearing to be held on Tuesday, April 21 on the proposal to create a countywide fire service district. If the district is created, the Commissioners would then create a single fire tax rate that would apply to all unincorporated areas of the County.
Incorporated towns and villages handle their own fire protection, sometimes by creating a municipal fire department, as is the case for Pinehurst, and sometimes contracting with a neighboring fire district, as is the case with the Village of Foxfire and West End Fire and Rescue.
If the plan moves forward, Commissioner Nick Picerno told The Times, a unified fire tax rate would likely be in the range of 7.2 or 7.3 cents per hundred dollars of valuation. Currently, those who live in the Seven Lakes Fire District — which includes all of Seven Lakes North and South and half of Seven Lakes West — pay the lowest fire tax rate in the county, at 4.0 cents per hundred.
In other words, someone who owns a $200,000 home in Seven Lakes would now pay $80 per year in fire taxes. If that rate were raised to 7.2 cents, the homeowners would pay $144 — an increase of 80 percent.
“We think it is a more fair way of doing it,” Commissioner Nick Picerno told The Times after the meeting. “Because if you are in Seven Lakes and need fire protection service, it’s not just the Seven Lakes Fire Department responding.”
In fact, fires anywhere in the unincorporated areas of Moore County — particularly a major structure fire — often bring units from several neighboring districts. Units from Seven Lakes, West End, Eagle Springs, and possibly even further away could be expected to respond to a fire in Seven Lakes.
“We think it is a good idea — but it may not be,” Picerno said, adding that he was very interested in having the public weigh in on the issue, including responding to telephone calls and emails from citizens.
The fire tax rates for the districts surrounding Seven Lakes vary, but are closer to the projected countywide rate. The West End fire tax rate is 6.9 cents; Eagle Springs is 7.5 cents, Eastwood is seven cents. The highest rate in the county is 11.1 cents, in the Crains Creek Fire District.
“I’m not sure how many people comprehend that we have all these different rates,” Picerno said during the meeting.
“We are trying to simplify. Right now, to a call in Seven Lakes, we would have four departments responding. The taxpayer is paying the Seven Lakes rate, but is getting a coordinated Moore County response.”
Though the fire tax rate paid by those in the Seven Lakes Fire District is bound to rise under the singled-district, single-tax-rate plan there’s one additional complexity that could blunt the impact of that rate hike.
A revaluation of the County’s real estate is underway by the tax department, and, in many cases, property values may have actually gone down since the last revaluation, eight years ago.
Lower values, even when combined with a higher rate, could mean that the actual dollar amount paid in property and fire taxes, for some Seven Lakers, will not change all that much.
Building County reserves
Also during their Tuesday, March 3 meeting, the Commissioners transferred $7,615,944 in excess fund balance into capital reserve funds. The County’s financial policy limits the amount of undesignated fund balance — the county’s regular savings account, so to speak — to no more than fifteen percent of annual expenditures. The excess is transferred into capital funds for use in major projects, for example, building a new jail or new schools.
Based on a previous funding formula worked out between the County and Sandhills Community College, $502,043 of the $7.6 million total went into accounts designated for college capital projects and debt service.
The Board approved $1,270,560 for the purchase of new vehicles, including twenty-six vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department, three for the Department of Social Services, and two for environmental health. Other purchases include a boom lift for Property Management and a Track Loader for Solid Waste Management.
County Manager Wayne Vest explained that the County had, for a number of years, delayed replacing vehicles well past the end of their normal useful life, in order to cut costs. By making a major purchase now, he said, the Administration is moving toward a plan, to be implemented in FY 2017-2018, to replace 7.0 to 7.5 percent of the county’s fleet each year.
US Motto on
The Commissioners heard a presentation from Rick Lanier, Vice Chairman of the US Motto Action Committee, which would like to put aluminum letters spelling out the official motto of the Unites States, “In God We Trust,” on one or more County buildings, at no charge to the County.
Chairman Picerno asked county manager Wayne Vest, County Attorney Misty Leland, and Property Manager Bobby Lake to work through the details and bring the Commissioners a proposed course of action for their March 17 meeting.
In other business during their regular Tuesday, March 3 meeting, the Moore County Board of Commissioners:
• Heard a presentation on the new County library planned for Aberdeen and asked Attorney Leland to draft a resolution expressing support for the drive to build a new library.
• Agreed to renew banking agreements with First Bank and a merchant services agreement with Bank of America. Chairman Picerno noted that First Bank is providing the County with a 1.5 percent interest rate on the first $5 million in deposits.
• Approved a $55,499 Moore County Airport grant application for the use of federal funds to plan a runway approach clearing project.
• Called a public hearing on the residential rezoning of two properties, one in West End, that are being used as residences, but have commercial zoning.
• Called a public hearing on a number of modifications to the County’s Unified Development Ordinance. Chairman Picerno noted that Planning Director Debra Ensminger has been asked to review the UDO with an eye to making it simpler and more concise.
• Approved a new County communications policy that provides staff with guidelines for interacting with members of the press, as well as use of the county website and social media like Facebook and Twitter.
• Made a number of appointments, including:
- Priscilla Beck, Teresa Heller,and Chyrie Barbery Moore to the Nursing and Adult Care Community Advisory Committee.
- Larry Caddell, Travis Greene, and James Tepatti to the Recreation Advisory Board.
- Seven Lakes Fire Chief Steve Melone to the Fire Commission.
- Mary Jo Morris to the Animal Operations Advisory Board.
- Mike Rowland to the Voluntary Agricultural District Board.
- Susan Adams and Bruce Yarrington to the Tax Board of Equalization and Review and Jim McNiff as Chairman for the 2015-2016 session.