Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

With equipment and building needs in the coming year, both the North Carolina Forest Service and the Otto Fire Department spoke to commissioners Tuesday night looking for additional funds in the coming budget cycle.

The N.C. Forest Service is a state agency under the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Funds for the agency are split between the state and local governments with the state providing 60 percent of the funding and the county providing 40 percent.

“A lot of people are not aware of how our budget works and that it is split between the state and the county,” said Bobby Mashburn, Macon County Ranger with the N.C. Forest Service. “All 100 counties in the state participate in this cooperative agreement.”

Mashburn informed commissioners that his department needed an addition $22,650 in the coming budget year to purchase a new vehicle and to address concerns with the building.

“The increased funding is needed specifically to replace a 2004 pickup that has over 90,000 miles and to perform some much needed repair projects on the county office which was built in 1979,” said Mashburn.

Mashburn explained that the $22,650 reflected 40 percent of the cost of the new vehicle and the building repairs as the state will be responsible for the other 60 percent.

Commissioner Jim Tate noted that he supports the work of the Forest Service entirely and would certainly vote to approve the funds if the state also approves the funds. Because the county’s budget is completed before the state’s it is possible that the county could allocate their portion, and then have the state vote no on their portion. Because of that possibility, Tate suggested waiting to see what the state does, and then funding the request out of the contingency budget rather than approving a budget increase.

Mashburn’s request to commissioners was for discussion purposes and commissioners will consider the request, along with the entire county budget again on June 14 at the next regularly scheduled meeting.

Otto Fire Department

Each fire district in Macon County is responsible for maintaining its own fire tax rates. Larger fire districts, or districts with larger call volumes, such as the Franklin district, may have a higher fire tax rate than the more remote fire districts in the county. For a fire district to change their fire tax, they have to get approval from the Macon County Board of Commissioners during the budget planning process.

Only one of the county’s fire districts requested a fire tax increase this budget cycle. Chief Terry Rolletter of the Otto FIre Department asked for a modest .067 cent tax increase to generate $32,000 to cover the cost of building improvements, additional training for firemen, and other needs within the department.

The Otto Fire Department has a Class 6 Fire Rating and has 33 volunteers and three junior firemen on their roster. The tax increase would bring their tax rate from 6.14 to 6.81. For a house appraised at $300,000, that would mean an additional $32.10 a year. For a $150,000 home, that would mean $15.05 increase a year.

The request would cover training for his department as well as equipment needs such as a new set of Jaws of Life. According to Chief Rolletter, the department’s current set is more than 20 years old and is not equipped to cut into newer model vehicles. The increase would also cover the cost of uniforms for the volunteer firefighters. It cost about $150 to fully outfit a firefighter, and Chief Rolletter said eight of his volunteers currently are without any type of uniform.

Macon County’s Finance Director Lori Hall noted that once previous year’s taxes are applied to the fire department’s budget, the actual amount of money needed could be reduced. Previous years’ taxes are funds that are generated by those paying taxes late. Departments don’t budget for the taxes because the amount is inconsistent. To date, Hall noted that Otto Fire Department can expect at least $11,000 in prior years’ collection, which could go to the $32,000 request.

Chief Rolletter and Hall are expected to work out the numbers and come up with a more definite increase request for commissioners to consider at the Tuesday, June 14 meeting.