Public Hearing Set to Discuss Mecklenburg Fire District Funding

The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has set a public hearing to discuss a new way to fund fire protection services throughout the unincorporated areas of the region. The hearing is scheduled for April 3 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 East 4th Street, at 6:30 p.m.

Currently 15 volunteer fire departments provide fire protection services outside Charlotte’s corporate limits, funded by a mix of County contract payments, citizen contributions, and in the case of volunteer fire departments that provide fire protection within the towns, contributions by those local governments. As urban growth in the County continues and volunteer fire department expenses rise, independent studies have suggested that the current funding method – directly from the County’s general fund — won’t be enough to cover the costs.

In 2008, an independent consultant’s report specifically noted fire protection service districts as an effective solution to address both immediate and long-term volunteer fire department budget needs. Fire protection service districts are used in almost all other North Carolina counties, and appear to be widely recognized as an appropriate method for funding fire protection services in unincorporated areas. This strategy builds on that recommendation

County staff has proposed to the BOCC to create Fire Protection Service Districts in Mecklenburg County:

• Four Town Extraterritorial jurisdiction (“ETJ”) service districts – one each for the ETJs of the following Towns: Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mint Hill.

• A fifth service district for the City of Charlotte’s ETJ and the small area south of Pineville into which Pineville could exercise its ETJ rights, but has failed to, to be called the “City ETJ Fire District.”

These districts would be created to fund the full cost of providing fire protection service to all residents of the service district, with the cost burden carried by all service district property owners, through the fire protection service district tax. The County would use the funds raised by the Fire Protection Service District property taxes to contract with the City of Charlotte, or the towns, or in some instances, directly with the volunteer fire departments related to a specific Fire Protection Service District, to provide fire protection services for that area.