At its Thursday budget workshop, Brunswick County shifted its fire department funding method, moving funding entirely to fire fees with specific fee amounts requested by each department based on its budgetary needs.
Fire fees are collected from each property owner in the fire department’s district, and are based on the type of the property (single-family dwelling, undeveloped acreage or commercial) and the square footage of the building or the acreage of the undeveloped land.
In recent years, some departments were not able to meet their funding needs with the fire fees collected, and had requested extra funding. This funding was provided from countywide ad valorem revenue, or property tax revenue collected from all property owners in Brunswick County. Many municipal governments were also assessing property taxes to supplement their fire departments. The Brunswick County-specific legislation provides for establishing a fire fee rate setting committee for each department and making recommendations about the fire fee amount for each fire district. Each department, municipal government and community stakeholders were represented on the fire fee committees, and all committees’ requests were granted. Municipal governments’ fire fees will only be increased with the support of the municipal council.
“It is very gratifying that stakeholders worked through a collaborative process that has resulted in additional budget funding in fiscal year 2018-19 for fire departments and improved service levels for citizens,” said County Manager Ann Hardy.
Changing the fire fees, in an amount specific to that fire department’s needs and requests, helps move toward a more sustainable fire funding model that aligns each fire department’s budget with the fire fees of its base, without relying on variable or supplemental funds from other places.
No fire department’s fire fee amount was reduced, and many requested increases to better meet departmental needs. Other departments found that, with growth of additional homes or businesses in their district, their fire fee funding increased without increasing the fire fees themselves.