ALBEMARLE — At the June 7 Stanly County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board made time for public comment on the proposed 2021-22 budget. The only member of the public to come forward to comment on the budget was West Stanly Fire Chief Dakota Raborn, who outlined the financial pressure his district is in due to the area’s rapid growth.
“Currently we have the largest fire district in the county, and we serve three municipalities,” Raborn began, citing his department’s jurisdiction over the towns of Locust, Stanfield and Rocky River. “In doing so, we employ 40 firefighters and answer roughly 1,000 calls annually.”
He said the district was started as a volunteer fire department to serve a rural district, but they are no longer operating in that fashion. To meet the needs of the district, he said they are requesting this year’s budget allow an increase in the fire-tax for those in that district from 10 cents per $100 of valuation to 12 ½ cents.
“To meet the growing need, we will require additional funding over and above our current rate of revenue,” Raborn said.
He listed many urgent needs the district has, including a remodeling of Station 1, building a Station 3, new equipment and, most of all, an increase in funded staffing positions.
“Our current situation: so as all of you know, we are exponentially growing in the western end of the county,” Raborn said. “And we’re doing that on a tax rate that’s designed for volunteer fire departments. So, we are a county fire department, but we don’t operate as a volunteer fire department. We are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and our staffing comes from professional career firefighters from the municipalities that surround us. And as you know, personnel costs money, and it’s expensive to provide the services that we want to provide to those municipalities.”
The services they provide, according to Raborn, include, “fire protection to the western end of the county, emergency medical care at an advanced level, high-angle rescue, heavy rescue, swift-water rescue, and we provide a mobile command post.”
West Stanly Fire Department currently has five people on shift Monday through Friday during the day, and then during evenings and on the weekend, there are four. Raborn said their goal over the next three to five years is to fund three additional positions, increasing to eight firefighters being on shift at any given time. Each position costs $144,000 to fund, since multiple people are needed to cover one slot for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Raborn provided commissioners with detailed handouts of the costs they are facing beyond staffing. The department believes the construction costs will be much higher on the Station 3 build and Station 1 remodel than were estimated before recent inflation, and a “mobile and portable radio problem” will cost them $81,000 a year for the next five years.
The chief then compared West Stanly with Albemarle’s department, showing that they protect similar assessed values of property ($1.2 billion for Albemarle and $1.1 billion for West Stanly) and similar populations (16,000 for Albemarle and 11,000 and growing for West Stanly), but Albemarle is doing it with a $5 million budget, 10 personnel and three stations, while West Stanly is doing it with $1.1 million budget, five personnel and two stations.
“We fully and wholly support the growth that is happening county-wide,” Raborn concluded. “We just ask that we are supported in meeting the increased need that is currently being placed upon us.”
Nobody else came forward to speak on the budget at the public hearing. The county commission will return June 14 for a workshop on the budget and then again on June 21 for a likely vote.