BEAUFORT — County commissioners are eyeing a piece of property in Sea Level to build a new Down East fire station, with the hope federal grants or other outside funding sources can help pay for the project.
The Carteret County Board of Commissioners met Monday evening in Beaufort to review the proposed fiscal 2021-22 budget, which was introduced last month by county manager Tommy Burns and finance director Dee Meshaw. The discussion Monday involved a presentation by Mark Shouse, chairperson of the county’s fire and EMS commission, who gave a rundown of the proposed tax rates for the fire and EMS districts.
Mr. Shouse said rates will remain the same for most of the districts, but highlighted a few exceptions.
“Most of these departments took the advice I think was given out by Stephen Rea’s office, through the county manager’s office, (hoping) for no tax increases. Some of them struggled with their budgets but were able to do it,” he said.
The Beaufort fire district requested a rate increase from 7 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 9.5 cents. Beaufort Fire Chief Tony Ray, who was present at Monday’s budget meeting, said the increase is to help pay for renovation costs of the department’s station No. 2 on Highway 101. The department plans to upfit the building with sleeping quarters to provide the station with 24/7 coverage.
Chief Ray said he plans to carry out construction during the coming fiscal year and to begin staffing the station in fiscal 2022-23. He said he had planned to return next year to ask for an additional half cent on the tax rate, but County Chairperson Ed Wheatly suggested taking it up to 10 cents this fiscal year, where it would be capped.
Commissioner Robin Comer had some reservations about bumping the tax an extra half a cent.
“When we talk about raising taxes there...I don’t do that loosey-goosey,” he said, but Chief Ray assured him it would be used for the station’s future staffing needs.
“We had planned to try to staff this year, which we cannot do with the way building costs (are), that’s what’s driving us to relook at our priorities and go in fiscal year 23 when we can staff that building on that Highway 101 corridor,” he said.
Other districts requesting an increase next fiscal year are the Mitchell Village fire district, from 5.5 cents to 8 cents, the Wildwood fire district, from 6.75 cents to 9.25 cents, and the South River EMS district, from 12.25 cents to 13 cents.
Following the discussion on district tax rates, commissioner Chris Chadwick brought up the possibility of building a new station for on county-owned land in Mariner’s Park in Sea Level. He said the four stations that make up the Down East Fire Department – Sea Level, Atlantic, Davis and Stacy – flood frequently, and a new building would allow the county to consolidate some of the stations into a more central location.
“We’d like to get the ball rolling, maybe carve out 4 acres or whatever the site plan dictates to have a fire station on a high piece of land,” Mr. Chadwick said.
If it comes to fruition, Mr. Shouse said the new station could replace the existing Stacy and Sea Level stations, meaning the Down East department would have three buildings to maintain rather than four.
Mr. Shouse said the fire/EMS commission had preliminarily discussed a new station during a meeting several months ago but tabled the matter due to lack of concrete plans, including a funding source. Mr. Chadwick said he’d looked into U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and was informed the county needs to secure a piece of land before it can apply.
Mr. Comer described it as sort of a “chicken-egg scenario,” where the fire/EMS commission can’t proceed without a funding source, and the county can’t secure funding until the commission agrees to pursue the project and drafts up some initial plans.
After some discussion, the board decided by consensus to support the project and plans to revisit the topic after the fire/EMS commission has a chance to learn the latest developments.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.