Wilkes County’s new fire tax and insurance district boundaries resulted in a little over 2,000 parcels being moved to different districts, in districts for the first time or no longer in any district.
Owners of these parcels are learning about the changes in notices mailed by county government last week.
New district boundaries resulted from the districts being re-mapped with GIS (Geographic Information System) technology. The N.C. Department of Insurance now requires GIS-based insurance districts. Wilkes County government requires that fire insurance districts and fire tax districts match.
The new district maps, like the old ones, are based on distances of existing roads, but GIS mapping measures distances more accurately because it’s based on locations on the Earth’s surface.
Unless served by a substation, a parcel must be within six road miles of a fire station to be in a fire insurance district. Some parcels in remote areas ended up beyond the six miles in the new maps so they’re not in a district.
Among 25 volunteer fire departments in Wilkes, those that gained the most fire tax revenue as a result of districts being re-mapped were Wilbar with $11,129 and Wilkes-Iredell with $8,741.
Losing the most fire tax revenue were the Champion Fire Department with $12,569 and McGrady with $10,279.
Champion’s loss resulted mostly from part of the Buck Mountain subdivision off U.S. 421 West no longer being in its fire district. County officials say this is being addressed by the subdivision’s construction of a new road off U.S. 421, which will make these properties close enough by road to the Champion substation to be in the Champion District.
The Buck Shoals Fire Department, which straddles the Wilkes-Yadkin county line, is building a substation in Wilkes to bring an area it lost and more into that department’s district.
Buck Shoals is the only department that hasn’t approved a revised contract with county government reflecting its new district boundaries, but county officials said that approval is expected soon.
Being in a fire insurance district makes property owners eligible for less costly homeowner insurance premiums. It also results in them paying fire district taxes, levied like county property taxes but distributed back to fire departments.
The nearest fire departments still respond to fires on property outside a fire district, which is called “no man’s land.”
Also as a result of the re-mapping, 15 parcels were moved from a rural district to Wilkesboro. Far fewer were moved from Wilkesboro to a rural fire district.
Wilkes Fire Marshal Kevin Bounds conducted a review of fire districts and found that several parcels were being assessed fire taxes in the wrong district. This resulted in boundary adjustments and compromises between districts before the re-mapping.
County Manager John Yates said $250,000 was included in the fiscal 2016-17 budget to compensate fire departments for what they lost in these situations.
County Attorney Tony Triplett said a parcel can’t be taxed in two separate fire tax districts and, where split by a boundary, must be assigned to one district or the other under “rules of interpretation” for fire tax districts. He said a parcel split into two districts will be placed entirely in the district from which the property is accessed.
In 2016, Wilkes County government hired High Country Council of Governments to have High Country GIS Planner Jessica Wellborn create GIS maps of Wilkes fire tax and insurance districts. She was paid $30,000.