The McDowell County Board of Commissioners plan to meet with representatives from the city of Marion and the Rescue Squad to talk about their requests for increases in the tax rates for fire protection and rescue service.
During a special meeting on Monday, the McDowell County Commissioners talked about the Marion Fire Department asking for an increase in the tax rate for the Marion Area District. That tax rate is now 8 cents per $100 valuation and the Marion firefighters are asking for an increase of 1.33 cents. This increase is requested in order to purchase new equipment and help pay for hiring of three new employees, according to county officials.
During a discussion, the commissioners said they wanted more information about the reasons for this request. “There has to be a return on the investment,” said Commissioner Patrick Ellis.
Vice Chairman David Walker said he understands that a public hearing should be held before approving the increase for the Marion Area District.
They also want more information about the need for more employees in the department.
“I don’t think any other fire department has that many full-time people,” said Commissioner Brenda Vaughn.
The commissioners ultimately agreed to have a meeting with the Marion City Council about this requested increase. That meeting could be held next week.
Likewise, they talked about a similar request from the McDowell County Rescue Squad, which is asking for a 2-cent increase to purchase new equipment. The commissioners agreed to hold a meeting with the Rescue Squad’s board of directors.
During the Monday meeting, the commissioners talked some more about the budget for 2021-2022 and possibly lowering the property tax rate by 1 cent.
Last month, County Manager Ashley Wooten gave the commissioners a proposed $49.7 million budget for fiscal year 2021-2022. The recommended budget calls for the county property tax rate of 58.75 cents per $100 valuation to stay the same as from last year’s.
But after receiving the budget, Walker said last month he would like to find a way to decrease the county’s property tax rate by 1 cent. A few years, the commissioners approved a 3.75 cent increase on the county’s property tax rate to help pay for the costly renovations at the county courthouse and other needs. Since then, they have talked about a way to lower the tax rate.
On Monday, Walker said he wants to find a way to lower it by 1 cent. A penny on the tax rate generates $450,000.
Ellis said his recommendation is to leave the property tax rate where it is and try to build up the county’s general fund and the fund balance, which is an undesignated section of the county’s budget set aside for unforeseen emergencies or problems, sort of like a savings account.
The state has urged McDowell to increase its fund balance over the years and improvements have been made. But Ellis added “We’re still below where we need to be.”
He said the school system has two major projects on the horizon that involve Marion Elementary and East Middle School.
Vaughn said she was concerned about treating the taxpayers like they are on a see-saw by raising the property tax rate and then lowering it.
The commissioners didn’t take any action regarding the budget or the tax rate on Monday. A public hearing about the budget will take place during the regular monthly meeting of the board on Monday, June 14 at the Universal Advanced Manufacturing Center.
In other matters, the commissioners approved increases in fees for McDowell EMS, building inspections and water.
They also accepted the low bid for renovations at the former Kirksey Funeral Home building. Morrison Construction of Cleveland County turned in the low bid of $1,684,000 for the renovation work. Chuck Hamrick, the county’s architect, highly recommended this firm. The work to renovate the old funeral home and transform it into county offices should start later this month, said Wooten.