DOBSON — More volunteer fire departments are looking to hire paid firefighters, and they will request tax increases along with the move.
A report from the Surry County Fire Chiefs Association went to the Surry County Board of Commissioners at a recent meeting. The report outlines which volunteer fire departments plan to hire personnel, and it also notes which departments will ask county commissioners for an increase to the property tax which funds their operations.
The move toward having paid personnel isn’t new. Commissioners have discussed the possibility during the talks associated with each of the past two years’ budget proposals.
Additionally, a lack of volunteers was documented as early as 2007, when The News published an article in which Surry County Fire Marshal Doug Jones said of the availability of volunteers was “probably getting into the crisis, or near-crisis, level.”
The South Surry Volunteer Fire Department already uses four personnel to fill one paid part-time position in its department. The paid staff mans one of the department’s two stations from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday.
A penny increase in the fire district, from 5.5 cents to 6.5 cents per $100 in value, funds the position.
The Franklin Volunteer Fire Department will soon follow suit, with plans of having two paid positions in place by the end of April. Franklin will ask the county board for an extra penny and a half on its tax rate to support the move.
However, according to the Fire Chiefs Association report, eight more departments are already making plans to set up a paid firefighter program.
Of the 15 departments who responded to an inquiry, eight plan to put paid staff in place at some point in the future.
The Ararat Volunteer Fire Department has plans to begin such a program in 2018, and officials noted the department will request a two-cent increase to its property tax rate.
The Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department is looking to hire paid staff in the 2018-19 fiscal year, and the department will request a penny on its tax rate to fund the move.
Bannertown Fire Chief Scottie Chilton indicated the department is in need of daytime help on his report.
Central Surry Fire Chief Rodney Whitaker noted his department may look into paying staff, but that move may not come for another four to five years. The department hopes to make the move without a tax increase.
The C.C. Camp Volunteer Fire Department also plans to hire paid staff in 2018, and will ask commissioners for another two cents on the district’s tax rate.
Bruce Crigger, chief for the Four Way Volunteer Fire Department indicated, like other chiefs have, that his department is having a hard time attracting enough volunteers. Crigger foresees an extra penny on the tax rate being needed to fund a paid firefighter program. However, he was unsure when that program might start.
Officials at the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Department want to roll out a paid firefighter program in July, the start of the next fiscal year, and the department will ask for a tax increase of one penny to fund the program.
Westfield Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jonathan Sutphin explained the reasoning behind his department’s intent to hire paid firefighters in 2018. The department will need an extra penny on the tax rate to implement the plan.
“We are in the process of lowering our I.S.O. (the rating assigned to fire departments by the N.C. Department of Insurance). This person will help this process,” explained Sutphin. “It also allows us to have a minimum of one truck and one certified firefighter on the scene. This is a must in the next few years in all departments in Surry County, in my opinion.”
A department’s I.S.O. rating impacts homeowners’ insurance rates for property owners in that district.
The State Road, Mountain Park and Jot-Um-Down departments indicated they have no immediate plans to hire paid firefighters, and the Pine Ridge Volunteer Fire Department’s board has tabled paid staff discussion until 2018.
While most departments have looked to part-time positions to supplement their manning needs, the Skull Camp Fire Department is looking to hire full-time firefighters to address its needs.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.