Consolidation: Where’s the fire?
In order to further understand the issue about the county wanting to take over the city of Fayetteville’s fire department, I did a little research on how a “city” works.
First of all a “city” is much like a non-profit organization, meaning it must pay for all the services it offers and all the employees’ wages within these services with money “donated” in several different ways. The most obvious of these is through a property tax based on a “millage rate.”
A mill rate is the amount per $1,000 of property value used to calculate taxes. For example, if a property value is, say, $100,000, and the percent of assessed value that is taxable is 30 percent, and the mill rate is .03 (3 percent) then by multiplying $100,000 by 30 percent and then by .03 you would be paying $300 in property tax to the city to fund streets, police, City Court, firemen, maintenance crews, the Downtown Development Authority, the zoning department, building and safety, business license department, the city’s finance department and the city’s administration. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Property in Fayette is taxed on 40 percent of the assessed value.]
Since this sole revenue source can not cover the entire expense by any measure, there are other means of revenue as well. These included a Capital Project Fund millage rate of .811, sales tax on every item sold within the city (thank you, Pavilion), occupational taxes, franchise fees and license and building permits as well an impact fees and SPLOST.
The present millage rate for the city of Fayetteville is 3.115. Now what I don’t get is that Steve Brown says the county has a 3.07 millage rate just for fire and that amount would be subtracted from what we Fayetteville city people pay.
In other words, since we now pay 3.115 for everything, if we take away 3.07 for fire, then the city would be left with just .045 mills to pay for all the rest of its services, right?
And who is to say the county won’t raise its millage rate to cover the new fire station that needs to go in out by the Pinewood Studios?
I would think the city actually has more chance of raising additional funds through sales tax, etc., than the county, especially when the numbers show the county has a declining property tax revenue.
Could it be that Steve Brown needs to add our revenue to his in order to bolster his fire department, which just so happens to be rated lower than ours? Or to improve the ISO rating for people in the county? (ISO is the home insurance rating based on local fire department performance. The better the fire department, the lower we have to pay for home insurance).
So what are they claiming is the reason (need) for the consolidation? For the city to save money? To keep the city from going bankrupt?
I find this disturbing, especially because of the obvious disconnect between what Mayor Greg Clifton is saying and what the city’s finance department is saying.
In paragraph 3 of Mayor Clifton’s letter to the editor in The Citizen, April 16, he says, “68 percent of the 3.115 mill rate goes to fire and police,” and then adds, “the city spends more than the total of its general (that’s all the revenue sources combined) millage property tax on just two stations.”
That would be impossible. And what exactly is the percentage of the 68 percent that goes to just fire? Shouldn’t he and the rest of us know that critical number right off the bat in this scenario?
Now add to that, Mayor Clifton claims the city’s funds will be depleted in five years, yet in Paragraph 2 of his letter to the editor, he states, “the city is not in danger of financial collapse.” Say what?
Then we get to the issue where Steve Brown claims another reason for the consolidation is that Fayetteville’s Fire Department does not have men trained in Advance Life Support (ASL), they are only trained in Basic Life Support.
But Mayor Clifton says in paragraph 19 of his letter that the “county already has 911 and E911 service and EMS ambulance that serve the city of Fayetteville.” Wouldn’t that be duplication of services?
Besides, Piedmont Fayette Hospital is in the city of Fayetteville. Our boys don’t have to be on the road with patients more than five to ten minutes. Rather a moot point, don’t you think?
And what in the world did Steve Brown mean by his comment, “Fayetteville is going to have to stand up to a full fledged fire department that can handle structure fires”? Guess he never read the paper about all the awards our Fire Department received last year.
Next we come to the “guarantee” that if this consolidation were to happen, that our boys would “not lose net salary and benefits.” And there will be “more opportunities for advancement and promotion when working for the county.” Really?
Everybody knows that whenever there is a merger, duplications of services and jobs leads to people being let go. So there is no guarantee they will keep their jobs, much less their salaries.
Even Mayor Clifton in paragraph 13 states, “Consolidation should result in reduction of some duplication of personnel and equipment with resulting savings.”
Even more disturbing is that this whole notion to consolidate was never presented to the fire department beforehand. After the fact, the data shown to him indicated they would be receiving less money and benefits. Maybe Commissioner Brown is unaware how better run Fayetteville’s department is.
And lastly, the issue about the need to consolidate also seems to be based on what the new Pinewood Fire Station will cost, something this City Council erroneously thinks has to be paid for in cash.
Past City Councilman Larry Dell was right when he said they are all too inexperienced to make this sort of decision. Of course the city would be getting a loan, as almost 100 percent of cities do for such projects.
And the mayor’s belief that we would be getting “the same level of services as the county provides, perhaps even higher at reduced cost and thus without increasing taxes” is absurd when the city is going to be left with only a .045 mill rate under which to operate.
The bottom line is that I feel this City Council is too easily swayed by sales pitches (i.e., Grady Avenue apartments) and fail to do critical due diligence before bringing a project up for vote.
They should have at least discussed this with the city’s finance department and let them scrutinize the county’s proposal before anything else occurred. And they should have discussed it with their fire department beforehand.
So, since I want my property insurance to stay as low as possible and I want my property taxes to stay low as possible, and I witness how busy the downtown fire station is on a daily basis, I vote to keep Fayetteville’s fine Fire Department right where it is.