Wilkes County government will pay the interest on loans taken out by fire departments for building substations to help expand fire protection in the county.

The county commissioners unanimously approved a “Substation Assistance Program” setting parameters for this assistance Tuesday night.

County officials said the goal is to encourage construction of fire department substations so fire district boundaries can be expanded to include areas of Wilkes outside of fire districts. Property must be within six road miles of a fire station or substation to be in a fire district.

An area not in a fire district is called “no man’s land.” The nearest fire departments still respond to fires in there, but owners of property in these areas don’t pay fire taxes to help support fire departments. They also aren’t eligible for reduced homeowner insurance premiums that result from being in a fire district.

Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, said he wants to see all of Wilkes included in a fire department to enhance fire protection and allow all homeowners to get reduced fire insurance premiums.

Kevin Bounds, who retires as Wilkes County fire marshal at the end of this year, said there is a large amount of no man’s land in the county, primarily in mountainous western Wilkes.

“This (Substation Assistance) program…. is going to greatly help some of these volunteer fire departments meet the requirements to get more of this no man’s land into a fire district,” said Bounds, adding that he is going to help one fire department with the process of obtaining county financial aid for building a substation starting in January.

According to the five-page Substation Assistance Program document approved by the commissioners, the maximum county financial assistance for one substation is 20% of a  substation costing up to $200,000 (which is $40,000) or the total amount of interest on the loan, whichever is less.

For a substation costing $100,000, that means county government would provide $20,000 or total interest on the loan, whichever was less.

Background information in the five-page document stated that remapping fire insurance district boundaries of the county’s 24 fire departments in 2018 and 2019 resulted in parts of several districts ending up in no man’s land. Fire tax district boundaries are the same as fire insurance district boundaries.

They were remapped using GIS (Geographic Information System) technology, which is now required by the N.C. Department of Insurance. GIS mapping measures distances more accurately because it’s based on locations on the Earth’s surface.

A fire department requesting financial assistance under the program must fill out a certain application form and submit it to the Wilkes County manager’s office.

Certain other records and documents must be submitted with this, including a letter from the Wilkes County fire marshal identifying land parcels that will be added as a result of a substation being constructed.

The financial aid is available to a fire department that built a substation before the program’s approval if some parcels added to the department’s fire district due to the substation earlier were moved from the district to no man’s land due to fire district remapping in 2018 and 2019.

The financial assistance is available only for costs from constructing a substation and not for land or equipment, vehicle or other costs.

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