The Town Council here has agreed to raise taxes 1.5 cents to help pay for nine firefighters and two police officers by 2017.
The 1.5-cent public safety tax council members verbally decided on Tuesday night would generate about $478,500 to help fund the new positions. The average single-family home value in Garner is $178,195. A 1.5-cent tax increase is the equivalent to a $26.73 increase on the average home tax bill.
The decision to raise taxes comes a couple of weeks after the Garner fire chief told Town Council members that the Raleigh Fire Department will cease its help to Garner. That means three fewer firefighters will be deployed to a scene.
For years, Raleigh and Garner had an understanding that if a structural fire happened inside Garner town limits, Raleigh would send three of its firefighters to the scene to help free up any remaining Garner firefighters, in case they had overlapping calls.
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In March, Raleigh’s Fire Chief John McGrath sent Garner Fire Chief Matt Poole a letter saying Raleigh’s call volume had become too high and he needed to end the agreement by July 1.
Poole told the council that in order to sustain the same level of service the fire department had been providing the town, he would need to hire nine more firefighters, or three fire fighters per shift. Poole estimated it could cost the town about $500,000 if they funded another engine company with firefighters and supervisors.
Instead the council and the fire department have devised a plan where the Garner Fire Department will hire nine firefighters without experience at a probationary salary ($32,673), and put them through the January Fire Academy. When they get out of the academy – in July 2017 – their salaries will increase to the town’s regular starting salary ($36,692), in time for the next fiscal year.
One firefighter will be added on to each shift at each station.
That option will cost the town $227,500 for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
“With Garner increasing its population each day, a new school coming in, you’ve got White Oak growing, I’m always against a tax increase, but we don’t have too much of a choice,” council member Jackie Johns said.
Council member Gra Singleton and other council members agreed. Singleton said the fire department must be prepared for the worst.
“If your house burns up, you don’t know if and when that may happen,” he said.
In the meantime, the Garner Town Council will ask Raleigh to continue their service to Garner through July 2017, while the new fire fighters get prepared.
The fire department also looked at hiring firefighters who were already qualified, but Poole said it would be too difficult to find nine qualified firefighters in such a short period of time, and it would also cost about $40,000 more.
The fire department’s current deployment model to structural-related calls requires 15 trained and qualified personnel to respond to a scene. Those responders are required to have North Carolina Emergency Medical Technician certifications, as well as a North Carolina Firefighter Level II certificate.
The GFD currently has 55 employees. There are three shifts.
The town wanted to avoid having to ask other fire departments to respond to calls. Those fire departments, such as Eastern Wake, Fairview, Swift Creek or Fuquay-Varina, are either farther out, or are made up of mainly volunteer firefighters, who may not be able to work the same hours, or have other jobs.
About $173,000 of the tax increase will fund two police officers. The rest of the money will go in a public safety fund to pay for the officers next year as well.