Three fire departments ask McDowell Commissioners for tax rate increases

During a special meeting Monday, the McDowell County Commissioners heard requests from three volunteer fire departments to raise the fire tax rates for their districts.

First, Chief Brad Ledbetter with the Pleasant Gardens Volunteer Fire Department asked the commissioners for an increase of 2 cents on the tax rate for the P.G. district. The tax rate now is 6 cents per $100 valuation. If this increase is approved, it would bring the district’s tax rate up to 8 cents per $100 valuation.

The 2-cent increase is expected to generate an additional $54,000. Ledbetter said to the commissioners this money would be used for an addition to the existing building on U.S. 70 West. The addition would provide living space for firefighters and more space for fire trucks and equipment storage.

Second, the commissioners heard from Chief Joe Washburn with the Sugar Hill-Montford Cove Volunteer Fire Department. His department is asking for an increase of 3 cents on the tax rate for that district. Washburn said this is due to a dramatic decrease in property values for the district.

The tax rate now for Sugar Hill-Montford Cove is 6 cents per $100 valuation. If this increase is approved, it would bring the district’s tax rate up to 9 cents per $100 valuation. It would also generate an additional $50,000. Washburn said his department has plans to build a substation.

Third, the commissioners heard from Brent Hollifield, president of the Woodlawn-Sevier Volunteer Fire Department board. His department is asking the commissioners for an increase of 5 cents on the tax rate for that district. The tax rate now is 6 cents per $100 valuation. If this increase is approved, it would bring the district’s tax rate up to 11 cents per $100 valuation.

Hollifield said to The McDowell News he was not sure how much this increase would generate a year for the department. But the Woodlawn-Sevier firefighters need a new truck to replace one that is 23 years old. The department also needs a station building that it can call its own. The one now being used, which was built in the early 1960s, is not owned by the department. The Woodlawn-Sevier department has equipment needs too.

“You’re in a tough situation,” said Commissioner Matthew Crawford to Hollifield.

After hearing from all three, the commissioners did not take any action but said they would consider these requests as the county budget work continues.

“We really appreciate what our fire departments do in our county,” said Commission Chairman David Walker.

Last week, the commissioners held another special meeting where a public hearing took place about the establishment of the Apple Mountain Fire Service District. This is a development of 15 tracts located close to the Orchard at Altapass near the McDowell-Mitchell line. Parkway Fire and Rescue asked for the establishment of this district in order to provide fire protection services to the residents there. Before that could happen, the commissioners had to conduct a public hearing.

After hearing no comments from the public, the board voted unanimously Friday, May 19 to approve the Apple Mountain Fire Service District.

As the commissioners move forward with the proposed budget, they will hear from various departments and agencies. Their next budget-related meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 30. County officials will meet with representatives from McDowell Mission Ministries and Register of Deeds Tonia Hampton at that time.

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