ELLERBE — The first step has been made toward what Ellerbe leaders think is a fairer way to charge people outside town for fire service — by assessed value rather than by whether a plot of land has a structure on it.
The town’s volunteer fire department is the last in the county to make the move. In August, Richmond County commissioners voted to allow East Rockingham’s fire department to create a fire service district and charge according to property value.
“Anybody in the city gets fire service from the city taxes,” fire chief Will Barber explained Wednesday. But when the department answers a call on a brush or wildfire outside the city but within the district’s 6-mile radius, the service winds up being free. Only the owners of structures pay a fire fee.
“I haven’t run an evaluation, but I would say we probably spend $30,000 to $40,000 a year” on brush and wildfires, Barber said. “Currently, (that service) is free if they don’t have a structure.”
Richmond County has ranked No. 1 in wildfires for the past seven years, according to the N.C. Forest Service.
Barber estimated the new fee for those inside the fire district but outside the city would amount to 9 or 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. East Rockingham assesses 10 cents.
Ellerbe Town Council voted this week to approve the move. The measure will have to go before the Richmond County Board of Commissioners. Barber estimated the new assessment method wouldn’t be in place until midyear 2018.
Barber said Wednesday that the new system not only would be more fair but would help pay for fire station improvements and equipment. The department now has two engines — with another on order — as well as brush and equipment trucks.
During the town council meeting Monday night, Mayor Lee Berry mentioned the fire truck set to be delivered.
“This would offset that,” he said.
Barber agreed that the move would “bring a significant increase in revenue.”
He said Wednesday that the department needed “to be able to build up some money to be able to plan for the future,” predicting that better fire service also would further lower the department’s fire rating, saving residents money on their homeowners’ insurance.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.