The town of Elkin held its second budget workshop Tuesday to continue discussion on the budget for the coming fiscal year and address concerns, one of which is a lack of staffing in the fire department and the funds needed to meet those needs. Fire Chief Mike Morton brought the concerns before the budget meeting with a proposed intermediary step to enlist two more positions for the fire department to meet demands.
According to Morton, the department needs to have at least four people responding to every fire and emergency or about 20 people in the department total. The busiest hours for the department are between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and is when firefighters are needed the most. Unfortunately that is also the hardest time to get volunteers as most people work during this time and are unable to commute.
Morton’s proposal asks for one part-time employee, working 12 hours a day, five days a week, and one full-time employee to help fill those heavy time periods in the day. The department is looking into the possibility of pulling a person from another department to fill the part-time position.
“We could try to get our volunteers to step up, but many are not qualified at EMT levels,” said Morton. “Besides, we need to have staffing for 20 people on the roster. If I move someone from volunteer to part-time, we don’t gain anything. If I pull someone from outside, then we’ll have 21.
“There may also be motivation for some of our volunteers folks,” said Morton. “They may say, ‘hey, I might want to make some extra money,’ asides from the incentive they already get. If they get the training they need, next time we have a part-time opening and the roster looks stronger, they can step up and get some benefits.”
At present, the department is in the final steps of getting one individual who works for the evening. According to Morton, the total costs for the funding would total $98,670 including part-time and full-time firefighters, full time with benefits. This also would include about $20,000 worth of overtime pay for volunteer workers. Because the department pays its volunteers at an hourly rate, the federal government looks at them as employees, requiring overtime pay for volunteers. Plans have been made to ask the North Carolina School of Government for interpretation in the hopes that they might be able to tweak the required funding.
“The only thing I don’t necessarily agree with is the overtime pay and we should see if there is an exception for that,” said John Holcomb, town manager and finance director. “If we can get a deferment, we could bring it down to $78,000. But even if we can’t get the deferment, we’ll have to pay it. We need our fire department.”
There were concerns about whether the hiring would be enough for the department or whether the town wold be back in the barrel. Morton stated that people always come and go and it’s hard to come by volunteers today.
“I have five people who could leave at any time,” said Morton. “This is why we’re making an incremental plan. If I lose those five people within the next year, we’ll be back in the barrel again. We still need to be looking for volunteers after this budget.”
Leslie Schlender, economic development director for the town, brought up the possibility to pass a resolution to apply for a grant. The town has received a last minute go-ahead from the Regional Trails Program at RTP through the NC State Parks. The application would be for $85,000. The town will be required to match that with 25 percent which equals $21,250. The Board of Commissioners decided to go ahead and pass the resolution.
There were also a few town projects that were not completed in the last fiscal year and will moved to the 2017 term to continue funding. These include:
• $240,000 was spent for paving and an additional $240,000 will be spent in the coming year on the project.
• $265,000 for the Linear Park.
• $136,000 for the Heritage Center.
The town hopes to continue work on these projects in the next fiscal year.
Throughout the workshop one of the matters that was brought up was the concept that growing the town’s industry would be beneficial to the town’s growth and development and could solve many problems including the fire department’s lack of staffing.
“We’ve got industry buildings that have just been sitting out there,” said Commissioner J.L. Lowe. “I don’t know how many more times I’ll say this, but it will help the fire department, it will help your water, it’ll help the taxes, on and on and on. We need some more industry to raise finances and get more people coming here.”
A public hearing on the budget will be held at the next regular board meeting to be held on June 13 with the meeting starting at 6 p.m.
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058 or at firstname.lastname@example.org