Move could require three-cent tax increase
Residents in Kill Devil Hills could see as much as a three-cent increase on their tax bill during the upcoming fiscal year if the town’s Board of Commissioners moves forward with a request for seven additional full-time firefighters to help staff the town’s fire department.
For a Kill Devil Hills homeowner with property assessed at $200,000, three cents tacked onto the current 38-cent ad valorem tax rate would translate into a $60 increase on their municipal tax bill. A three-cent jump would generate an additional $617,466 in revenue for the town.
Requested by Fire Chief Troy Tilley during the Jan. 14 commissioners’ meeting, the new hires would cost the town $507,060 annually in salaries and benefits. That figure does not include additional costs such as vehicles, equipment and other supplies that would be associated with new personnel.
“This is a whole new level of service, something the commissioners will look hard at before they vote on,” Town Finance Director Beverly Kissinger told the Sentinel. Kissinger noted that it was too early in the budget process to know how much of the total cost of the positions would need to be collected through ad valorem taxes.
A series of work sessions will occur before a public hearing on the budget that is tentatively scheduled for June 10. Commissioners are slated to adopt a final 2019-2020 spending plan on June 26.
Tilley said the seven new firefighters would be used to man an around-the-clock, two-person quick response crew that would be charged with responding to minor emergencies and simultaneous calls within the town, as well as assisting the first response crew with back up.
Currently, when the first response crew goes out on a call, a crew of career firefighters and volunteers are called in to man the station or provide assistance.
“This would give us two units in route quickly,” Tilley said of a second crew, noting that the fire department has experienced an increased number of calls over the last nine years. “This year, we’ve hit our highest point since we’ve been keeping record with 1,653 [calls] during the calendar year.”
Tilley told the Sentinel that of those calls, 21 of them were fires. Just over 900 were Emergency Medical Services calls, a large number of which involve non-critical medical calls and patient assists. The other calls fell into a variety of categories such as severe weather.
The entry-level firefighter salary would be approximately $40,000 each, and Tilley noted that new hires would be required to have all their firefighter certifications before beginning work.
The rate of new construction, the chief asserted, has bolstered the need for additional fire department coverage. “We have a new hotel going up on the south end of town that will have 150-plus rooms,” Tilley said of the new TownePlace Suites slated to open this spring. “When a fire crew goes there, they are at the southern point of the town, leaving the whole north part of our town vulnerable.”
Mayor Sheila Davies and other commissioners did not give direction to staff on the request at the Jan. 14 meeting. Rather, they agreed that any decision would come after seeing a budget that outlines all department head requests. Davies suggested staff draft a budget with the request included, and one that doesn’t include the added positions.
Commissioner John Windley told the Sentinel that, with the level of growth occurring in town, this was a good discussion to start having. “The demand on first responders is going to increase, so it’s a good time to start a conversation to plan for that,” he stated.
Tilley has also requested an additional ocean rescue group leader at a cost of $24,000. Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue falls under the fire department. Currently, four group leaders oversee an area that includes five lifeguard stands. An additional position, he said, would allow for leaders to each focus on an area encompassing four lifeguarded stands.
Although not included in this budget cycle, Planning Director Meredith Guns made a pitch to commissioners on Jan. 14 for creating a new GIS mapping technician position that she said would be shared between the planning department, public services and the water department. If created, the total cost of the position would be estimated at $80,000, with $45,586 of the cost going toward salary and the remainder being applied to employee benefits.
“We are at the point where we are big enough and have enough need to have a specialist on staff to create these maps and maintain them,” Guns told commissioners. Currently the town relies on the county GIS system.