Durham city and county fire departments may merge; what does it mean for you?

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Durham fire department merger talks underway.

When a fire strikes in Durham, the city's firefighters or the county's first responders may have to travel through one district to get to the other.

But under a proposed consolidation plan, the two entities would merge and become one. The goal: to improve or keep response times to under 5 minutes and 30 seconds.

Bo Ferguson, Durham's assistant city manager, said city and county leaders have been discussing the merger for a year.

In March, both city and county boards will vote on the measure, which would bring 53 county firefighters and personnel into the city, bringing the total to more than 350 first responders spread out across 19 fire stations.

The cost of the merger would affect county residents being supported currently by county fire districts. They could see up to a three-cent increase in their fire tax.

"We anticipate that tax rate to stay stable at that level as opposed to going up in the future," said Ferguson, who expects some property owners may see lower insurance rates as a result of the pending merger.

Durham County Fire Chief Reggie Villines said the merger gives his county staff stability as more and more of the county becomes the city limits.

If the measure is approved, Chief Villines will be reassigned other leadership duties.
"I knew that upfront when we entered into consolidation merger talks," Villines said.

If the plan is approved, the consolidation will go into effect in July.

Durham officials said if county firefighters become city firefighters, their Social Security contributions will stop; however, contributions made with a previous employer will not be forfeited and will be retained with the Social Security Administration until they reach the Social Security eligibility age as determined by the Social Security Administration and they choose to begin receiving this benefit.

In lieu of contributing to Social Security, the city of Durham's firefighters contribute to a deferred compensation plan. As long as they contribute at least five percent of their earnings, the city provides a five percent matching contribution that is placed in a 457 plan.

Officials also said the city of Durham contributes five percent to the 401K plan for all city employees, including Durham firefighters, regardless of whether or not an employee contributes to the 401K deferred compensation plan.

There are concerns among rank-and-file county firefighters on whether their employee benefits, titles, and roles will change drastically.

That is something ABC11 is digging into.

There are three volunteer firefighter departments in Durham County. Those will continue to operate as is.

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