STEELE CREEK -- The Mecklenburg County manager has proposed a plan to restructure the way money is allocated for volunteer fire departments.
If approved, Station 2 of the Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department could get $180,000 for next year's budget, about double this year's contribution.
Three other stations also would see their contribution double, while four would see their county allotment cut from $87,000 to $65,000. Donations to the remaining stations, including Steele Creek Station 1, would stay about the same.
There are 17 volunteer departments in Mecklenburg County. To ensure fire protection, the county annually gives each an equal amount of money.
Fire Marshal Mike Fox says the county is attempting to make the annual supplement to each station more equitable based on the value of the property that each station serves.
The county currently provides each station with $87,000 a year; but under the new proposal, stations protecting property valued at more than $500 million would receive $180,000 a year.
Those responsible for property valued at $200 million to $500 million would receive $90,000; and those covering property valued at less than $200 million would get $65,000 annually.
Most stations say current funding needs to be increased so they can hire some paid employees.
Volunteer fire departments throughout the county are struggling to keep enough people to staff their stations during the day.
Some volunteer stations already employ paid staff during the day and rely on volunteers for nights and weekends. Others rely solely on volunteers.
County money covers only part of each station's expenses. The rest comes from donations and -- in cases in which stations also provide fire protection for a municipality such as Mint Hill -- from towns.
Fox says many people are surprised when they find out that their county tax dollars don't cover the total cost of fire protection.
He says that the plan, if approved, would only be a temporary fix. The county is still considering fire tax districts that would tax county residents with a separate charge to pay for fire protection. County residents already pay a similar tax for police service.
The Fire Commission will meet April 17 to review the plan and other options.
Don Pusso, secretary/treasurer of the Steele Creek Volunteer Fire Department, said, "I won't get excited about anything until the plans are finalized. When the money shows up, then we can get excited and start making plans."
Want to know more?Fox says Steele Creek Fire Department Station 2 covers 18.32 square miles and protects property valued at $814,385,294. Steel Creek Fire Department Station 1 covers 13.02 square miles and protects $460,165,861 of property. Pusso says the stations have 32 volunteers and responded to 1,342 calls last year. To find out more about the department, visitwww.steelecreekvfd.com