The Millers Creek Fire Department board responded appropriately to concerns of citizens when it asked the Wilkes County commissioners to raise the Millers Creek Fire District tax rate by 1 cent instead of the original 3-cent hike it requested.
The commissioners voted 3-2 to increase the Millers Creek Fire District tax rate by 1 cent in the 2020-21 county budget. That left the rate 8 cents per $100 of property valuation, which is still among the lowest in the county. (See story on page A7.)
The original request for a 3-cent rate increase drew criticism from a large number of Millers Creek residents during a public hearing on the matter, held by the county commissioners.
Several of the letters opposing the rate hike said it was bad timing because of the increased financial challenges people face during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 3-cent rate increase very well might have drawn little criticism if not for current conditions.
Numerous other rural fire department boards in Wilkes requested and received county commissioner approval of rate hikes in recent years, with little or no opposition in public hearings.
It’s worth noting that public hearings on fire district tax rate hikes aren’t required, but are held by the commissioners to give taxpayers the voice they should have.
Millers Creek Fire Chief Robbie Bolin clearly explained how the 3-cent rate hike would help fund plans addressing the department’s equipment, personnel, facility and other needs in the next two to 10 years in a letter to the county commissioners.
Another point to consider is that fire departments help keep homeowners insurance rates down. Some departments recently secured even lower insurance rates for homeowners in their districts through actions that improved the amount of water available for firefighting and faster response times. Others are about to accomplish this.
Wilkes County taxpayers can expect to hear more about the issues Bolin outlined, especially for adding fulltime paid personnel.
Millers Creek now has two part-time paid firefighters and is among the most professional, best trained fire departments in Wilkes. Millers Creek averages more calls each year than any other department except Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro.
It’s becoming harder to find people willing to commit to meeting the increased training requirements and also drop whatever they’re doing to respond to fires, wrecks and other calls for little more than the cost of the gas they use to get there (if that much).
More people who might serve as volunteer firefighters work out of town or for companies that won’t allow them time off to respond to emergencies.
Costs of this training and the specialized protective clothing and equipment for firefighting and rescues are rising. There always are facility costs as well.
These increased costs and the growing challenge of finding people willing to serve their communities as volunteer firefighters are making it harder for smaller departments to survive. We can foresee a day when some will need to be absorbed by larger departments.
Meanwhile, take time to show appreciation to the firefighters who serve the area where you live or elsewhere if the opportunity arises.