Proposed Cumberland County tax hike would help underfunded fire departments

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's a new proposal to get more funding for volunteer fire departments in Cumberland County. It does include a tax hike for residents, but the alternative could be a real safety issue.

When you call 911 for an emergency, you expect immediate help. It's why Chief Wayne Lucas founded the Godwin Falcon Fire Department decades ago.

"What's unique about our district is that we operate in three counties. I have a half mile of Harnett, three miles of Sampson and the biggest part of this district is in Cumberland County," Lucas said.

But with a service area that large, Chief Lucas wishes he had the budget and the volunteer staff to match.

"I don't know that it's the turnover rate. We just lost people and haven't been able to recruit enough to take some of those slots," said Lucas.

Godwin Falcon is one of five low-wealth volunteer departments of the 15 in the county. To help keep them funded, Cumberland County's safety task force is asking county commissioners to sign off on a fire tax increase. So for an average home value of $110,000, you can expect to pay about $150. That hike translates into more than a million dollars in supplemental income for much-needed staff and equipment.

"I need a new engine. The newest I've got is an '03," Lucas said.

But the oldest on the fleet is from 1975. While it's not his main engine, it is still running, which means additional maintenance costs.

"This was a brand new. First brand-new piece of equipment," said Lucas.

Countywide, volunteer fire departments would benefit from more hazmat gear, extrication tools and EMS supplies. While it won't extinguish the problem altogether, Lucas said it certainly clears the smoke.

"Will the proposed funding cover us five or 10 years from now? I would guess probably not, but at this time it's necessary to continue to provide the level of service in this county that we're providing right now," Lucas said.

The recommended model will be presented to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on April 11 during its agenda session and for further consideration during the fiscal year 2020 budget process. The commissioners set the tax rates for the county.
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