ARCHDALE — A recent fire tax increase will allow Guil-Rand Fire Department to increase staffing at their outlying stations.
Last week Guil-Rand published an announcement seeking 12 qualified candidates for full-time firefighter-EMT positions.
According to Chief Darren Pierce, the fire tax increase has been long awaited.
“It’s something we have been working toward for years,” he said.
Representatives of Guil-Rand Fire Department were among county agencies who made needs request presentations to Randolph County Commissioners June 11. The commissioners approved the tax increase the following week on June 18.
Walter Taylor, VFW representative on the Guil-Rand Board of Directors, pronounced the tax increase “a step forward.”
Fire tax revenues are based on property valuations within the borders of the district. When the local VFW group helped to form the local fire department in 1950, a maximum cap of 10 cents per $100 property valuation was set.
“A lot of things have changed since then,” Taylor said. “Back in the days when Guil-Rand was established, people volunteered and when there was a fire everybody just showed up. It’s not like that now. Plus there has been expansion in the district. With the increase in population and businesses, it is a natural progression.”
At a time when some fire districts are shrinking, the Guil-Rand district has enlarged to encompass 81 square miles and a population of about 33,000 persons. Within the district are 1,100 commercial and industrial businesses and nine public schools.
Due to increased costs Pierce explained how thin the department has been spread in recent years.
“At the four outlying stations, only one firefighter was on duty at times,” he said. “Every weekday from 8 to 5, we had four part-time staffers. It was hard for us to keep that part-time staffer, with part timers there was no guarantee. When we got a call, one guy would go out and do what he could until we got more help to arrive. OSHA requires us to have a two-in two-out policy.”
The policy means that a single firefighter may not enter a burning building unless there is a life-threatening emergency.”
Pierce elaborated that the previous tax rate of just over 12-and-a-half cents per $100 property valuation produced a total budget of $2,902,641 for the department in 2017-2018, of which 75 percent went for personnel costs. The June increase upped the tax amount to 15 cents per $100 valuation.
The tax increase will boost the projected budget for the 2018-2019 year to $3,403,048, generating the funds to replace 12 part-time firefighters with 12 full-time firefighters.
“That funding will enable us to put more personnel at our outer stations,” said Guil-Rand Board Chairman Frankie Scott. “That’s one thing we have been hurting for. We will be able to put more personnel at our outer stations and also be able to better equip them. We are really excited about being able to do that. It’s just going to mean better service for the fire district. And a man won’t be going out on a truck by himself waiting for another truck to arrive.”
Board members extended credit to County Commissioner Darrell Frye who advised them to do their homework and gather necessary information before making the critical presentation to the board of commissioners.
“Darrell came to our board meetings, sat down with us and gave us some good advice,” said Scott. “He told us the best way to present our needs. We tried to check all the boxes and do it all the correct way. “
In April of this year, Guil-Rand Fire Department received an insurance rating of 3 in municipal areas and a 4 for rural zones. In 2016, only about 16 out of 1531 — or about 4 percent of fire districts— have a safety rating of 3. The expanded budget will offer them a greater opportunity to hold onto that superior rating, thereby keeping residents’ insurance rates low.
“Guil-rand has a tradition of excellence,” said Taylor. “These firefighters deserve all the support we can give them.”
Staff writer Debbie Hightower may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-888-3576.