After years of discussion and contemplation, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted earlier this month to implement a fire tax that will draw funding from unincorporated areas throughout the county.
Mint Hill is one of five service districts affected by this new tax. The tax will affect only residents who live in Mint Hill’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, or ETJ, leaving untouched those living within the town limits who already pay for fire services. Unincorporated areas near Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Charlotte also will pay the new tax. Matthews doesn’t have an ETJ.
Currently, Mint Hill residents and those living in the town’s ETJ receive the same fire protection, but are paying for it at different rates. This would ensure all residents pay an equal rate for the services they receive.
Although an official tax rate has not yet been decided, officials expect to see 4.5 to 7 cents per $100 of taxable property. County commissioners are expected to vote on the tax rate by June 8. The new tax will be implemented in July.
John Phillips, deputy chief of the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department, took part in the collective effort between the fire departments and the county to make this tax happen, and is excited to see these plans come to fruition.
“Our county stipend helped, but didn’t pay for everything,” Phillips said. “This way, people are paying a set amount.”
Phillips believes the tax is both a way to ensure top-notch fire service in the area and have everyone doing their fair share to support the fire departments.
“It’s probably the most equitable way to fund a public-service organization,” he said. “When you do it in this manner, pretty much everyone participates, and (the extra funding) gives us a little more assurance that we’ll be ready when folks need us.”
This is the fourth time since the early 1990s the county has tried to establish a fire tax on residents living in unincorporated areas, Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal Mark Auten said. Auten doesn’t expect the additional tax revenue to have a huge impact on fire department budgets, but he does believe the service districts will benefit from the new funding.
“Nobody likes a new tax, but everybody can understand that the people receiving the service pay for the service,” he said. “Mint Hill provides a level of service, and everybody pays for that service at the same rate.”
The county currently pays $2.5 million annually to provide fire service for areas not within city or town limits. The service is primarily funded through grants used to sustain volunteer fire departments, as well as fundraisers and donations.
But Auten says that’s not enough to keep the fire departments going.
“At this point, the barbecues, the fish dinners, the fundraisers the fire departments do (are) not providing the funding needed for them to increase their services due to the increase in population in those areas,” he said.