Today is June 22nd 21, and there are a LOT of comments out there on social media right now about the Board of Commissioners choosing not to increase the fire tax for West Stanly Fire Department during the 2021 budget talks. I’m going to go against my better judgment – which would be to sit back, shut up, and let the arguments fly because there’s no winning in this discussion – and try to lay it out in a way that might make sense to some of you.
I am going to try to do that and refrain from jamming anyone under the wheels of any large child-carrying-vehicles if that’s possible. But I’d also like to remind you all of something. Our meetings are public… there are MANY “informed” opinions out there on this particular topic, all full of absolute assurances that their viewpoint must be the only correct one, and many of whom share the sentiment that this was a very important topic for the commissioners to vote on, yet not one Stanly County citizen was there to see the discussion, hear the debates, or just be present in the moment while this important matter was being discussed. We seven people represent sixty-two thousand of you out there, and not a single individual in the entire county wanted to be present in the moment. Try to remember that when yelling about decisions from Facebook. There is always an opportunity to be involved for anyone that cares to. No one seems to pay attention until after the fact. I wish very much that it wasn’t so.
To break this conversation down successfully, I’m going to have to try to share with you the things that many of you might not be aware of, because this decision about WSFD wasn’t made in a vacuum. It wasn’t made solely on it’s own merit. Keep in mind I voted FOR an increase, but I was also in the room with my fellow commissioners throughout the entire meeting process, so I think I can speak to their hearts on the matter, even though I might not agree with their vote in this instance. The decisions by any one commissioner to vote against this tax increase were not for malicious reasons. They truly believe they are doing the best for their county. Grab yourself a coffee and a bag of chips, sit back, and let me tell you what we face this year.
This wasn’t the first time
WSFD came to the board last year requesting an increase in their tax rate. The board chose to deny it then for a variety of reasons, but I think I can speak for us all when I say one big reason was that we were in the very beginnings of the first pandemic of our lifetimes. People were being sent home, not allowed to work, told they couldn’t go out in public, told they couldn’t visit sick loved ones, told their children couldn’t go to school, etc. Most of government at all levels was totally unprepared to be able to forecast how the rest of 2020 was going to play out. With the fears of everyone losing their jobs, losing their homes, kids not being able to go to school, no one was in the mood to increase anyone’s taxes. End of discussion. 2020 was NOT the year to increase costs where we didn’t need to and having no idea what the year was going to bring, we didn’t know where we might “need to” so the idea was just to hold on, get through the year in one piece, and adjust where we needed to during unprecedented times.
That meeting was happening at the same time that every spare minute of my time was spent in my garage bootlegging moonshine out of South Carolina and working with Rep Wayne Sasser to make medical grade hand sanitizer so our EMTs could have it on their ambulances. It just was NOT the time…. I think we can all agree on that part. 2020 wasn’t the year for a tax increase of any kind.
Fair warning was given at the time
The county manager told WSFD during that meeting that their tax base, along with the rest of the county, was about to undergo a tax revaluation. And to read between the lines a little bit – a revaluation in what was very previously a booming economy means that everyone is expecting their tax bills to go up. We were speculating internally anywhere between 10% to 30% increased in property taxes. The writing on the wall was pretty plain advice. “Don’t even think about raising taxes during a revaluation. That’s crazy!” And yet… here we are.
And it is crazy… you just don’t do that in a county like Stanly. No one’s taxes were going DOWN. That much was assured. Some people might go up a little bit. Others would go up a lot! But the majority of taxpayers were about to feel a hit in their pocketbook in 2021, so you’d do better to find a way to live within your budget the next year and let the shock and pain from the revaluation settle with the taxpayers a little before you start wanting to raise the fire tax.
Fast forward to 2021. It’s June and as a commissioner I’ve spent the last five months getting report after report after report about what each department needs, wants, and trying to find the middle ground with what we can give each of them. We’ve met with the school board, sheriff’s office, health department, and about every other department about their needs. They were all told the same thing… don’t expect a tax increase in 2021. Our county manager did a FANTASTIC job about expressing our desires for realistic expectations. Sure, the budget was higher than last year, but the suggested increases were inline with rising costs of delivering services , expected inflation, and most importantly we found the money to achieve those increases WITHIN OUR OWN BUDGET and without raising taxes.
WSFD’s Budget isn’t under our control
I’ve got to deviate a minute here to put something in perspective because I’m not sure everyone understands this part, but it’s important that you do.
Every other county department you hear about in the news runs their budget through the county offices and the board of commissioners. If they want personnel, they ask us for an approval and explain why. We approve or deny based on how we interpret the county’s needs versus the availability of funds – and weighed into every single one of those decisions is the “how will the taxpayers feel as a whole about this decision” factor. It’s there in every decision we make. Does providing this service or adding this person to the payroll add a justifiable cost to the budget that we’re comfortable with or is there another way to achieve the same result without increasing the budget and passing that cost on to the taxpayer?
Chief Dakota Raborn, (whom I’m just going to call Chief from here on) made mention the other night that they have to do everything themselves from their own budget. They do not get to reach out to us and get more personnel when they want it. They must fund it themselves from their fire tax. I think his perspective is a little bit off on that one.
That argument works two ways. It is true… our board approves every position in this county that’s under our purview. But his department isn’t under our purview. We don’t control who is hired at the WSFD. We don’t’ approve their budget or decide how they allocate revenues.
What I think Chief didn’t know was… 100% of those requests for this year from all those departments that get to come to us… got DENIED. They didn’t get denied because we don’t want them to have personnel. They got denied because we can’t keep increasing the budget again and again and raising taxes again and again.
- The Sheriff asked for four more deputies. Denied. (two years in a row)
- DSS asked for three more positions. Denied. (two years in a row)
- Other people asked for things that got denied. (more than two years in a row)
That’s the decisions we have to make in order to keep taxes down and keep the people of Stanly County happy with their government, fully realizing that you can’t keep everyone happy, but you’ve got to do the most good for the most people with the fewest dollars possible. That’s the job.
What if we give every department what they want. Is that the right solution?
Remember how we lowered the tax rate to .61 cents?
If we had actually approved the requests from the county’s departments that asked for more personnel and equipment, we would have had to RAISE taxes 14 points. Ponder on that thought for a minute. We’d have had to raise the county tax rate from .61 to .75 to give everyone everything they “needed.” Yet somehow, the county manages to plod along and the wheels aren’t falling off the bus, just like it plodded along last year and the year before.
No one else decided they’d fall apart about it…
If you’ll notice, the sheriff did not come out and say he was going to stop prosecuting certain crimes because he didn’t get his budget approved for four more officers. Miss Dolly from DSS didn’t come out and say that her department was going to stop serving children in need because she couldn’t get three more staff members. No other department came out to throw the board under the bus and then follow up with a comment that they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs due to lack of funding. From my personal perspective, the comment WSDF made on Facebook was very much designed to inflame the public. It was literally received as a threat to the community. I’ll quote it below:
“We will continue to provide the best possible service at our current tax rate, however we expect significant short and long term affects in service capability due to our stagnant funding rate with increased demand for service. We will share what some of those impacts will be in the coming days so that our citizens remain aware of why this increase was so crucial.”https://www.facebook.com/weststanlyfd/posts/10159703001918833
I’m not pointing out to put anyone on notice or anything else, but I’ll be honest and tell the general public the same thing I told Chief when I talked to him later on last night. There’s a certain level of professionalism expected between departments, and having a county department come out and slam the board because they don’t like the decision isn’t the way to do it. After all, that board of seven is the same people you’re going to have to work with this next twelve months and who you’re going to be asking to help you solve some of these problems.
I know the Chief didn’t write the post, but he did approve it. It certainly CAN and maybe even SHOULD be the opinion of an individual, but it’s not the way a county department should engage the public or it’s board of commissioners. Enough on the topic.. the post is made and the public is sufficiently pissed/confused that I’ve had to spend the last five hours here trying to put this post together to see if I can clarify some of the confusion.
Examples from the 2021 Revaluation
Let’s put some of these numbers into cold hard figures that everyone on the west end can appreciate.
First, let’s be clear; there is no single number of tax increase percentage that is the same for everyone in the county, but a conservative safe number for the West End of Stanly would be to assume a 20% tax increase after the revaluation.
Your $200K home
- In 2020, your home and land was worth $200,000
- After the revaluation, that home is now worth $240,000.
- Your taxes property taxes for 2020 were around $1,340.00
- Your taxes for 2021 are now going to be $1608.00
- Your property taxes increased $268.00 or $22/month already this year.
For me, an extra $22 per month is no big deal. I work for myself, make good money, and I can always make more. But what if you are one of those older folks trying to enjoy their retirement in the west end? That $268 increase is higher than my car insurance premium. Some of those folks do not have another $25 floating around a month to spare.
Now, let’s say we did for all departments what WSFD wanted us to do for them specifically. After all, department heads must be better at budgeting than the entire finance staff that does that for a living, right? Let’s say we raised your taxes to get everyone what our departments said they needed to continue offering services in 2021.
- Your home is now still worth the new $240,000 rate after the revaluation.
- We increased the tax rate to .75 to meet all the county’s needs.
- Your property tax bill is now $1800.00 per year, or $460 more than last year when it was $1,340. That’s $38/month more just to own the same home you owned last year.
The people of Stanly County would have put drug us through the streets, hung us on crosses, and then set fire to the cross!
You can’t give everyone everything they ask for. It’s just how the job works.
Let’s go back to WSFD
So let’s step back to WSFD and put their numbers into comparison. Keep in mind the board did not deny WSFD anything they didn’t deny everyone else…
Remember, we lowered taxes across the county to keep things revenue neutral – to EASE the tax burden on citizens. Honestly, I’d LOVE to have more money to build that new sheriff’s office with, to build that new 911 center with, to build a school building, or to build a new fire department or whatever else with… but we have to keep our citizen’s tax burdens within their means, so lowering the rate was the only way to do that. We’ve known for years that we needed another EMS base. We need a bigger Sheriff’s office. We need a new communications center. But we budget for the needs and we tackle them in order. We already got the EMS base started and underway. That didn’t happen in one year either. The Sheriff’s office isn’t going to happen in a year either. Just the evaluation company we’re going to hire to figure out where and how to place it is going to cost money and take up to a year to get back with us on an answer. They didn’t come to us and ask for a new building and expect approval for it in a month…
The revenue neutral rate for WSFD this upcoming budget year would be down from .10 to .086
Fire tax calculations for that same $200K home mentioned before:
- 2020 Fire Tax @ .10 = $200 (home value was $200,000 before the reval)
- 2021 Fire Tax @.086 = $209 (if we lower the rate, but the home still increased in value)
- 2021 Fire Tax @.10 = $240 ( so the same home is already paying $40 more this year anyway)
- 2021 Fire Tax @ .125 = $300
Let us break that down for the mathematically disenfranchised:
- Even if we had LOWERED the tax rate, those homeowners would be paying $9 a year more in fire tax anyway.
- We LEFT them at .10 to give them an additional budgetary cushion to help grow. That results in the average homeowner paying $40 a year more. That’s an additional $173,213 a year over what WSFD received this year that they’re getting now already!
- That fire tax comes from ALL land, not just land with houses on it. If you own 2 acres of unused land or 100 acres, you’re paying that fire tax on land you aren’t using. So every single acre of land is already paying a fire tax, developed or not. That has to be factored into the decision. It’s not a per-house tax. It’s a tax on every piece of owned land in that fire district.
- If we’d raised the fire tax up to 12.5, the homeowner that was paying $200 last year, would be paying $300 this year after the revaluation.
I realize that not every home is worth $200,000. Some are much higher. Some are lower. But we have to go with SOME figure, so if we just use $200K as a median level, and consider raising it to 12.5 that’s literally a 50% increase in that landowner’s taxes in ONE YEAR!
Let’s look at it from a business perspective. Remember there are LOTS of businesses out there in the west end. I won’t say the name, but the one I’m looking at had a tax value in 2020 of $5,544,203.
Thanks to the revaluation, their business is considered to have a tax value of $5,933,094.00. Yup, their business tax base just jumped up $388,891 And they only had a 7% increase on their piece of property. Regardless of whether their profit margins jumped up at all, that business owner is now going to be paying taxes on another four-hundred-thousand dollars that he doesn’t actually have in his pocket just because someone’s calculation decided his land is worth more now!
So let’s see the numbers for that actual Stanly County Business:
- 2020 Fire Tax @ .10 = $5,544.00 (this is what they actually paid)
- 2021 Fire Tax @.086 = $5,156.00 (if we lower the rate to revenue neutral)
- 2021 Fire Tax @.10 = $5,933.00 ($389 in additional taxes they’re paying already)
- 2021 Fire Tax @ .125 = $7,416.37 ( their taxes would jump $1,872.00!)
I run a local business. I can’t imagine I’d be happy if my taxes had jumped $1,872.00. If that business had actually revaluated at the 20% increase like the previous example, instead of the real increase they experienced of 7%, their tax bill would have gone from $5,544 to $11,866.19 after the revaluation and the fire tax increase were combined. That would be a tax increase of 214% from last year!
Would YOU want to be the board responsible for contributing to a businesses fire tax jumping 214% in one year?
Reality of the situation
No one is saying that WSFD doesn’t need more funding. Hell, if you remember, I voted FOR It. In fact, I can comfortably lay claim to the idea that the 1% tax increase was my idea in the first place. I spoke to Chief Dakota for about an hour the other week. I spoke to fellow commissioners. I spoke to county management. We are LOOKING for solutions to help them out, but the shot across the bow on social media… that was indeed uncalled for – especially coming from the VFD itself. That makes it very hard for people to want to work with you.
I brought up the idea of trying to get them 1% this year, depending on the disposition of the board, but regardless of the outcome of that vote, going ahead and planning in a change to .11 next year and .12 the year after. It takes time for people to get used to shelling out more money out of pocket, especially when they get nothing for it (in their opinion).
Hyperinflation is likely coming
While none of us can gaze into a crystal ball and forecast the future, we do all agree as a board, and as county management that hyperinflation is very likely going to hit in the very near future. I won’t get side-tracked into the politics of whose fault it is. This isn’t the place for that discussion. But the reality is that it IS likely to be coming.
A 2×4 piece of lumber is $8.24 today (June 22, 2021) at Lowes. When I purchased in early spring of 2020, they were $2.36. That’s 350% inflation in 12 months. The lowest I’ve paid for gas this year was $2.23/gallon. ( I have an app that tracks all my costs for deduction purposes) Last week, during ONE trip east for work I had to fill up three times throughout the week. The price was $2.73, then $2.79, then 2.99 in a period of three days, that’s a 75% jump since January. So far this year:
- Dairy has jumped 10%
- Beef has jumped 10.8%
- Health insurance has jumped between 4%-40% depending on your provider.
- Power bills are expected to see 2.8% increases this year.
- Even postage has jumped 1.8%
Once again, I’m blessed. I work for myself. But most of you voters out there don’t have that luxury. I can raise my prices and make more money to adjust, which I’ve done and will do again if I need to. But what about those on retirement? My mother is on Social Security. You know what kind of raise she’s getting this year? An estimated 1.3% So if she lived on the west end of Stanly and her property tax jumped 20%, and her income jumped 1.3%… well, do the math.
There ARE solutions for West Stanly Fire Department.
There are a lot of solutions out there that might help West Stanly FD and we’re willing to work on them with them, but we have to be asked. Unlike other county departments, they don’t answer to the board of commissioners. If they did, we’d have told their previous board that no matter what they want to do, there’s no way they’re going to allocate all their revenue increases into payroll.
That’s what they did in recent years with their income. The Chief said it himself. No, it wasn’t his department at the time and no, he didn’t make those decisions, but let’s left holding the mess of whomever made that decision before him.
The department intentionally chose NOT to set aside funds for capital improvement and instead invested heavily in personnel because they thought that was the best way to meet their need.
I’m not on their board, and wasn’t there, and therefore can’t second guess their decisions but so much…. But no other county department gets to do that.
We do NOT control how they spend their finances. We have ZERO oversight into telling them how to spend their money. If they want to build a firehouse, they can build a firehouse. If they want to hire 3 new guys, we can’t tell them no. If they can afford it, they can do it. The board of commissioners has no control over it. They want to buy a new swift water boat and purchase all the gear to do it – go for it. It’s your money. You can spend it however you like!
But what, in essence, happened this past week was that it got dropped in our lap like this:
- We’ve spent all our money on personnel because that’s how the previous board wanted to do it.
- Now we can’t do our jobs on our existing budget.
- We need you to raise our areas fire taxes so we can meet our goals.
If this were a business, they’d be asking for a loan from a bank. The situation is different, but the protocols are very much the same with respect to the reasoning for approving or not approving the request.
That’s how that conversation went last Monday. Now I don’t know Chief Dakota except for the last few weeks, but it is my personal impression that he didn’t create this problem. He inherited it. We only have what we were told in that meeting to go on to explain why there’s no money set aside at all, as in none, as in zero, for funding future expansion. From the times I’ve talked to him, and there have been a lot here lately, he seems like he genuinely wants what’s best for his department, and as a commissioner I genuinely want to help him get it. But dropping this kind of ball in the commissioner’s lap right at the end of budget season…. not gonna work. This is something we should have been talking about together for the last year or more. But I literally heard nothing about it until the budget meetings.
The decisions to turn that tax increase down weren’t expressed to them as an unequivocal “NO” but I think we did take the stance of “not until we’ve got some time to see if there are other ways to help without raising taxes” because THAT is our job.
Above all, THAT is our responsibility. There are months’ worth of discussions we can have, and should have, with WSFD about ways to help them out, but we would not be good stewards if we just said “Sure, here’s a check paid for by all the people you serve, whether we know all the details of what it’s for or not.”
Community Support for the Idea? Facebook is a Vacuum.
Getting community support for something based on social media feedback is a fickle thing. It’s always got bias, and lots of it. Sure, if I post something on my Facebook wall, my friends love it, laugh at it, support it. Those that don’t follow me don’t say anything because they don’t know about it. Firefighter support is strong… in its circle. Same with LEO support. They’ve got strong followers and supporters inside their circle, but if you step outside of that circle (like with the national news) you get a WHOLE LOT of opinions you didn’t think you’d get that are very anti-whatever-your-idea-is.
To my knowledge there was ONE person in the county that called to express their support of the idea of a fire tax increase. Literally… one. I won’t mention her name, but she left all of us commissioners a voicemail on Father’s day expressing her support. The other calls commissioners were received… the ONLY calls commissioners received… were against it.
Community opinion is definitely valuable, but you can’t take your Facebook posts and your followers and assume that’s the opinion of the public at large. Take it from me… I’ve got more followers than just about anyone in all of Stanly County on Facebook, and on YouTube. You know what that’s worth? All my followers and $5 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Well, it used to. Not sure with the 2021 prices….
My point is, that ANY social media following is a vacuum. You’re never getting the point of view of those that disagree with you because they don’t bother to follow you and don’t interact until your post comes across someone else’s feed that brings it to their attention. And here in a place as small as Stanly, if they know they’re going to get blasted, they just don’t bother commenting at all.
If you want to drum up support for something in the community, and let the commissioners know it – email or phone call. Because the ones that are opposed to whatever the idea is… THEY WILL DEFINITELY email and call. And they have…
WSFD – Help with Debt Restructuring
Commissioner Lawhon mentioned in his discussions with the Chief re-evaluating their existing loan structure. Bill Lawhon has forgotten more about financial matters than I’ve ever even learned. He’s been in banking for the last 40 years or so. He’s offered to work with them to try to see about getting better rates and working on a capital improvement plan based on those figures. Maybe we can recoup 50K a year. Maybe more, maybe less, but no one knows until they try. The Chief did mention that his board doesn’t want to take on debt, which I can certainly agree with. Who does? But the reverse side of that argument is – you don’t want to take on debt, but you want other people to on your behalf? Because that’s how some of them see it.
What about Station 3?
As part of this tax increase, they asked for $1.5 million dollars for a building. Well, we do building all the time. Hell, MUCH of our time is spent evaluating the cost of new facilities in the county. Just take a look at the ten-year capital improvement plan.
When asked – how they came up with the figure of 1.5 million, they didn’t have a good answer. They’d checked out other facilities similar to what they want, talked to some people, and that’s about the cost of a new fire station.
Wait, what? We just built a new EMS station, which I would argue is LESS involved than a fire station like they’d need probably is going to be, and that building was 2.7 million. So do we KNOW the building is going to be 1.5 million? Nope.
That’s not how we plan to buy a building and that’s not how you go to a bank and ask for a loan for that building. What we do is hire an architect to design a set of drawings (that they’ll be required to have anyway) and then send out an RFP to see what it will cost to build that building.
Based on the cost of the new EMS base, rather than 1.5 million, and factoring in inflation, I’m expecting to see the actual cost to be along the lines of 2.5 million or more. But no, I wouldn’t want to approve an increase based largely on the cost of a new building when no actual professional has even been employed to know what the building will cost! Get me some actual definite numbers and then come back to the table with real figures.
WSFD is getting shafted, but it’s not from the Board.
I spoke to the Chief about this myself today based on input received from county management. WSFD has a lot of calls out in Locust in the Cabarrus county side. They get ZERO fire tax revenue from those homes they’re servicing. Why?
All the calls out in the Walmart area, first responder and EMS calls, those are also Cabarrus County. They get no revenue from that. Why are we responding to calls first if that’s Georgeville’s tax base? Or Midland’s tax base?
I asked the chief today, “Why hasn’t someone let us know this? Why don’t we work together with the county to get the state legislature to help if necessary to create a municipal fire district so you can get revenue from those areas you’re servicing?” Apparently, someone tried about 12 years ago… no luck. What? So we just give up and write it off and spend Stanly County tax money servicing Cabarrus county homes and businesses? Aww, hell naw! We need to get the right people together and try that again! That’s revenue the department could be capturing… but no one’s ever asked us until I reached out to ask questions.
Why is tax revenue rolling to other areas if WSFD is first on-scene? Part of it might be fire-fighter culture… you want to be there. You’re here to help so you run out the door at the first chance. But if other departments are getting paid to service those areas and you’re not, then you’re spending your budget money on someone else’s service calls. I love doing my job too, but if you’re paying someone else to do it, it’s not very smart for me to jump in the truck and then go do it for free! You get the work. The other guy gets the money. And all I get it to have to refill my truck and payfor men and consumables that I used up on a free job.
That makes no sense from a fiscal responsibility standpoint. Someone needs to fix that. Either we create a municipal fire district and generate revenue from it, or we get in the habit of letting the department handle those calls that is paid to handle those calls unless we’re called in for Mutual Aid. (and forgive me for this part if I might be out of my head here, but I’m just schooling myself in this today because I just found out about it TODAY – so I will admit that this needs more research)
There are a lot of areas the county commissioners can help WSFD, but raising taxes on their customer base should be the last option, not the first one.
Based on the comments floating around social media – the general public seems to have the idea (mainly because of WSFD’s Facebook post) that the county board just denied them money for self-serving reasons.
Personally, though I cannot speak for everyone on my board, I think the denial was coming from a place of concern about this being the best solution rather than trying to exhaust other solutions first.
I had the privilege of seeing Andy Lucas lay it out to a few departments this year in his pre-budget talks. He flatly told one board “I know that every one of you in here wants things. I’ve seen your budget request, but there’s absolutely zero way this board sitting in front of you can achieve your wish list without raising taxes, and they’re not going to do that, so keep that in mind.”
Why never raise taxes?
Personally, as a textbook conservative, not a feel-good conservative, I’m not actually against raising taxes but the need has to merit it. Conservatives believe in small government, not being cheap. It’s not the same thing.
I live out here in the real world and I see costs going up. It is a sad truth I can’t seem to beat through people’s heads that costs will NEVER go down overall. 1965 is not coming back.
- Stamps will never be .05 again.
- Gas will never be .31 a gallon again.
- Milk will never be .95 a gallon again.
- And a dozen eggs will never be .53 again.
If we want to grow as a county, we are at some point going to have to raise some more money, and we can’t always remain revenue neutral if we want to do that.
If you’re in Neutral, you’re not moving foward
If revenue neutral this year is .61, and the county gets 10 new businesses next year that generate a TON of county income, the revenue neutral goal is to drop the taxes next year so the county makes exactly the same amount of “profit” as it did this year, which needs to be just enough to keep the general fund where it needs to be for our goals.
The automatic solution will be to drop tax rates again the following year. That means no extra money to build a new school, or build a new library, or build a new jail, or build a new anything. You’re literally trying to remain exactly where you are all the time year after year. That’s the goal of being revenue neutral. Another commissioner said it best in a meeting last week when he said “Being revenue neutral is fine, but keep in mind that you’re literally “IN NEUTRAL”… you’re not moving forward.”
Some people’s goal is to live here, get old, and die. And for that to happen, taxes don’t ever need to go up a dime. I agree. But others that live here have a goal of seeing their children thrive here in good schools, and maybe having good industries for those kids to get careers in, and that requires growth, just like it does for a business to grow.
No business in the world operates revenue neutral. Even non-profits have to profit! It’s called being stagnant…. Its literally the exact definition of stagnation. No one invests in stagnant businesses. It’s a bad risk for an investor. And some businesses have chosen not to move here for similar reasons.
We’re beautiful. Yes. It’s green. Yes. It’s pretty. Yes. All those things are true.
But if its not growing and increasing services to meet the needs, it is not attractive to large-scale growth. We’re not actually to that point yet. We’re doing “ok” in my humble opinion, but we do need to start planning more for long-term growth in this county. If you ask the older generation, they want it to stay where it is. They want it to stay green, stay open pastures and farm land, etc. If you ask the younger generation – they either want to see us catch up with the rest of the world, or they’ll just move off somewhere else and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be replaced by another old-timer on a fixed income that will take their vacant apartment and also won’t be able to contribute to the growth of the local economy. They certainly won’t be replaced by a young entrepreneur that wants to operate a global company because we’re not really very well setup to handle that compared to other places with more infrastructure.
But as we DO grow…. There are only X amount of Sheriff’s deputies that can serve Y amount of people. If the county’s population is growing at x percent, then the budget has to grow at x+y percent to keep the same level of service for law enforcement, schools and for emergency services. We WILL absolutely have to hire more deputies, more firefighters, more teachers, and then we’ll have to buy vehicles for all those departments and build buildings for them to work in. If the Sheriff’s office is built to handle 30 people, we can’t put 65 in it. We’ve got to build a new one. Hiring another deputy is only 55K a year, right? No. That’ just salary. With all the things it takes for an officer (gun, vest, uniform, car, lettering, rifle, ammo, etc) it’s close to 97K a year I think. If you just add one a year…. in ten years you’re looking at a new building. That’s not just 100K a year.. that’s 3 million dollars for a building!
People just don’t want to see that… and that’s a reality about living here in Stanly. Absolutely ANYTHING you want to see happen in Stanly that costs money, will have a budget item associated with it. There are only two options. Cut something else, or raise taxes. That’s it. You’re out of choices.
It is a constant battle to get the bare minimum of what we need to provide for our departments without running afoul of the voters to the point you are kicked out of office for being “wasteful” with taxpayer money.
Personally, I’m glad as hell we lowered taxes this year. I was personally wanting to go half a percent higher. I don’t mind being honest about it. That’s what you elected me for – to vote my conscience and to be honest about why. But when I mentioned it, the county manager told me that thanks to the pandemic being better for Stanly County revenue overall in 2020, we had more surplus income that we anticipated. So rather than raising the budget (which means raising taxes) we could fund some of our capital projects out of our fund balance (savings account). That’s fantastic! Instead of taking out loans for six or eight million dollars, we can flat out write a check for maybe three million and finance the rest!
But those discussions, and those decisions take time, and they take cooperation. They are not achieved by the county just agreeing to raise taxes on one section of the population just because a department asks us to. Whether I always like the outcome of a particular decision or not, I agree that we DO have enough diversity on that board of commissioners to usually exhaust all other options before considering a tax increase.
And THAT is the case with West Stanly Fire Department as well…. Myself, another commissioner, and some of those I’ve spoke to in county management aren’t against raising the fire tax rate in the west end. We ARE against raising it up that much, in one year, while we’re still trying to recover from a pandemic, and when we’re about to go into a bad period of inflation.
Myself and some others voted for 1 cent this year. We didn’t get it. That’s ok.
There are still a lot of other newfound options we can explore together with the WSFD to find ways to recover some revenues that might be recaptured, and if we can’t, then we’ll know for sure that the only way to achieve the goals is to raise the fire tax. But… it’s hard to have a productive conversation while your staff members are busy lobbing PR-bombs at the board of commissioners from your Facebook page.
PS: For all those that are definitely FOR WSFD getting more funding in the immediate future, there is absolutely nothing stopping someone from writing a check to West Stanly Fire Department for their needs. It will go into their budget. Since they are a VFD that has paid personnel, they kind of feel like they shouldn’t solicit funding like other VFD’s do through fundraising -which I respect – but nothing stops anyone from making a donation if they truly want to help the cause!
Ryan Hanes (posted by Tommy Jordan)
Question Posted by Ryan Hanes on a FB comment:
First let me preface this comment by saying this is not all aimed at you directly, but rather the entire board. You are just one (if not the only one) who has allowed your constituents to comment publicly on both sides of the issue rather than only allow for those who align with your beliefs. For that, I applaud you and thank you.
I’d first like to address the point made about “slamming” the board because of the post made by West Stanly FD. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these meetings subject to public record? To include how members of this Board vote? So, it has been determined by some that the department is attacking members by making public information well, public? Social Media is indeed a tricky beast, but just like you use it to reach the citizens you serve, the department is obligated to share information to those that they serve and are affected by your decisions. There was no call to arms made by the department to oust members. There was no statement made by the department about who the public should or should not vote for. The only information presented has been factual.
If I recall from one meeting, members of the Board scrutinized that the department hadn’t done more to let the community know about our proposal and the recent ISO rating. It would be nearly impossible for us to go out and reach every citizen within our community amongst all the additional responsibilities we have daily. So, we rely on things such as social media, which in the last three posts made by the fire department have reached over 10,000 people on Facebook alone. In fact, during the recent ISO inspection the department received 4.43 out of 5.5 points for Community Risk Reduction (outreach) which are considered bonus points and not required for a department to receive a rating. West Stanly maintains one of the most robust public outreach and public education programs in the county because of the staffing we can provide and the passion we all share. As it stands today the department has more “followers” on social media than any other department in the county, so to assume we have not done enough to reach our citizens in addition to the public events we go to in the community is outrageous. I ask, what the board is doing to reach all their constituents and presenting them with facts, not opinions.
First – thanks for the response. I do try very hard to keep the public aware about things that I think are going to be contentious, or to share my views and seek feedback before a vote if I can. I’m blessed that I work in the IT industry and I own my business, so I probably have more “free time” to post things on social media and can do so with better technology and less frustration than most. That’s partly why you hear (read) more from me than the others I think. I don’t consider that a failing on their part. I just consider it part of why I ran… to be open about transparency and to try to connect with the public when I can.
Aside from the higher-than-normal ire this post has raised, the purpose of my posts aren’t (at least I hope they aren’t received this way) to convince you we were right, or that I was personally right about a vote. It’s just to explain that there are often more things that we have to consider than the obvious black and white of what might appear to be in front of us. I’ve found it to be my experience that when the public is more informed about a decision, they often still might not agree with a vote, but they sometimes see that a particular vote might have been the result of choosing between the lesser of two evils – something that is all too common in government. This can be viewed as one of those situations as well. Either we have to make the WSFD wait longer to get what they need, or we have to raise taxes on a certain portion of the population.
In this case – again, I voted FOR the increase. I might not be happy about the way it was handled on social media, but I was for the idea itself. But I don’t bash my fellow commissioners for voting the way they did. Believe me, if I thought they were just all being stupid, I’d say so. Readers should all know that about me by now. They just don’t see things from the same lens I do. That’s ok.
I’m personally OK with how the vote turned out because I know how the process works. The board didn’t vote the way I wanted them to, but the process doesn’t have to stop there. We didn’t raise the fire tax. Fine. It sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. The world didn’t stop turning.
Now we can (and should) work with the WSFD to exhaust all the other ideas that commissioner’s had to see what effect those ideas have on the bottom line. It’s 12 months….. really about 8.5 months in which we can work together to see if there is an alternate solution to get what they feel they need. I literally don’t think “most” of us are against increasing the fire tax. I think you’d honestly have a 6-1 vote for it if this weren’t a revaluation year, at least a 5-2.
I was speaking to someone today about a related issue. You know how long it took to get approval for the new EMS base that we needed? Twelve years. T.w.e.l.v.e!!! It took over a decade to get that building built for our county!
Remember the radio project? West Stanly was all for that one to get us on UASI. That took six years to get done.
The sheriff’s department has already been almost three years in the making and we’ve got close to another year to go before we will be able to say we’ve “started” on it.
The Livestock Arena? Good Lord! That’s been an ongoing project we’ve been trying to get off the ground for almost 8 years now! Either it’s going to get off the ground in the very near future, or it’s just not going to happen at all at this point.
One of the biggest pain points I think for the commissioners was that this request included a 1.5 million dollar goal for a building that no one in that room thinks will be built for anything less than 2.5 million. There are no architectural drawings, no cost estimates from contractors, nothing concrete. That is not something we can work with. I’m hoping personally that the FD will work with an architect to get the drawings done, work with an engineer to program the building (that’s where the engineers decide how many rooms, how they’re laid out, etc based on common fire department designs in use today and factoring in what growth is expected and how long the building needs to serve, etc). Once that’s done and we have an accurate cost estimate of the new building that’s something solid we can work with, but I don’t fault my fellow commissioners for saying no when the cost estimate of the building wasn’t backed up by engineered drawings and construction estimates from professionals in those industries.
What I keep trying to say so very clearly is that “We agreed you probably need it. We just need to see more data!” If someone had brought this to me in January, I’d have mentioned it then, or Bill Lawhon would have, or Scott Efird would have, etc. CALL US or EMAIL US and let’s go over this in detail and make it workable.
No one is arguing this isn’t a good idea, and no one says it’s not needed. What the board DID say was “not in a revaluation year, and not without some more data.”
As far as your social media, I wasn’t personally aware of the WSFD page until the other week. Now I am and I follow it. I’m VERY glad they engage with the public successfully through social media. Most don’t. It’s a time-consuming task and somewhat of an art form to do it successfully, so I applaud them for doing it and hope they keep it up.
While I agree there was no “call to arms” in the WSFD post, there was some inflammatory language that didn’t need to be there. The phrase was ” however we expect significant short and long term affects in service capability due to our stagnant funding rate.” That literally says in plain English – “We aren’t going to be able to do our jobs now because we didn’t get more money this year.” I can’t think of another way to interpret that statement besides inflammatory.
As far as OUR board posting on social media and engaging the voters – we’ve got 23 departments. Most of them do have social media pages and we do our best, but our Board of Commissioners doesn’t have one by choice. I have one as a commissioner and as far as I know I’m the only one that does have a dedicated political page. The reasons are good ones. When I first became commissioner I went to Andy Lucas and said “Sir… we’ve GOT to have a social media presence! This is ludicrous!”
He literally kind of deflated, sighed, and patted his desk and said “have a seat, commissioner” and then he very politely went on to tell me all the myriad reasons it’s a bad idea. The biggest one is – it could only be posted to by some department person, not the individual commissioners for public information tracking reasons. (No one can delete messages, comments, etc). Ok, that made sense. Secondly, if it’s a government page we can either totally disable comments (which is useless) or we have to accept ALL comments and can’t delete them….. ever. I’m sure you can imagine the hundreds of ways THAT would be bad for everyone. So we don’t have one as a board. But I have one as a commissioner so I can try my dangdest to find the time to keep you guys abreast of the super-important stuff. I can’t make the time to comment on every agenda item, or even most of them, but I try to engage on the ones that I think will need public input and won’t get it, or the ones that I think will cause confusion for people, etc.
And I try very hard (though I doubt I succeed all the time) to keep it informative without making things personal.
I very much respect your time to pose your questions and I sincerely ask ANYONE to leave comments here on the blog and I’ll try to answer them.