Brunswick County’s proposed fiscal 2018-19 budget will not include supplemental funding for Yaupon and four other fire departments, a move that could cripple the volunteer group that protects Caswell Beach.
Annual fire fees charged to Caswell Beach property owners average about $250 per household and will raise a total of $172,739 this year. Yaupon Fire Department’s board has recommended keeping the fees the same for fiscal 2018-19, which begins July 1.
Last year, Brunswick County commissioners agreed to supplement Yaupon’s funding with $127,261 from county property taxes to bring the annual budget to $300,000. Commissioners also supplemented the budgets of St. James, Bolivia, Navassa and Waccamaw to bring those department to $300,000 a year. Navassa received $130,158, Waccamaw got $88,740, Bolivia’s subsidy was $97,638 and St. James received $14,300. The county also provided one-time equipment allowances of $45,000 each to departments at Grissettown/Longwood, Civietown, Shallotte Point and Sunset Harbor/Zion Hill.
For fiscal 2018-19, “no departments are recommended for supplemental funding,” said Brunswick County fire administrator Mack Smith. He said that staff would suggest that county commissioners rely on fire fees to fund their portion of the budgets for the 22 fire departments (plus one federal department at Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point).
County commissioners will address the issue at their Thursday, May 10, budget meeting at 9 a.m.
The loss of more than 42-percent of its funding would be devastating to the Yaupon Fire Department, said Caswell Beach Mayor Deborah Ahlers.
“If they (the county) do not fund them, they cannot function as a fire department,” Ahlers said. “We can’t afford to run it by ourselves.”
The town could not make up the funding shortfall without a substantial increase in property taxes. The town’s property tax rate is 22 cents per $100 value. To raise the money, Caswell Beach commissioners would have to increase taxes by almost five cents, an increase of 23-percent.
Caswell Beach town administrator Chad Hicks said the town already pays debt service on the fire station and part of the utilities, a subsidy that amounts to about $80,000 a year. He said he hopes to propose keeping the tax rate steady for next fiscal year.
Because fire fees went up 25-percent in 2017, the Yaupon board did not approve an increase for 2018. It would take a 60-percent increase in fire fees to make up for the funding that could be denied by the county, Hicks said.
Hicks and Ahlers both said that if the Yaupon department is not supplemented by Brunswick County, Caswell Beach would look to Southport or Oak Island for a contract for services. Brunswick County Emergency Medical Services bases an ambulance at the Yaupon fire station, which also houses the town’s police and public works departments.
Yaupon Fire Department Capt. Mike Sullivan said a lot hinged on a decision by the county commissioners. He said the department’s goal is to keep the doors open and continue to provide service for residents of the fire district. “We’re looking at all options right now,” he said.
Oak Island Mayor Cin Brochure said town officials would make a proposal for fire coverage if asked. She said Oak Island wants to be a “good neighbor” and is willing to assist Caswell Beach, if officials there so desire.