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Alternative Recommended For Funding Volunteer Fire Departments

Mecklenburg County Commissioners are looking at giving fire protection taxing authority to towns and unincorporated areas served by volunteer departments. Mecklenburg County has 18 volunteer fire departments, but at the end of June there will be two fewer. The Mallard Creek and Newell departments will be closing because they didn't receive enough donations. They like most of the county's volunteer fire departments serve unincorporated areas. Mecklenburg County gives each of them subsidies of either $88,000 or $138,000. But Jim Bartl, the county's director of code enforcement says that's often not enough. "As costs have increased the subsidy has been relatively flat. More and more fire departments have become pressed to make their budgets work," says Bartl. The Fire Commission has looked at ways to keep volunteer fire departments afloat without relying on county money to fund what is usually paid for by city and town taxes. The group has recommended giving towns the ability to tax unincorporated areas they serve. Bartl says that would allow the county to stop paying subsidies and move the cost of fire protection to the people who benefit from it. County commissioners would have to approve the change and then towns would have the choice of taking the subsidy or levying the tax.