STEELE CREEK NEWS
Discussion Addresses Volunteer Fire Department Needs
18, 2020) At a Budget Public Policy meeting of the Mecklenburg
County Board of County Commissioners on January 14, county staff
made several recommendations regarding volunteer fire departments
located within the unincorporated areas of the Charlotte
Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ).
The key recommendations
for fiscal year 2021 (beginning July 1, 2020) were
Increase paid staff from two to three personnel per station.
Provide additional funding of $35,000 per station, $85,000
total, for capital needs and miscellaneous expenses,
Hold $150,000 in capital funds for a loan to purchase land for a
future third station in Steele Creek until strategy is finalized
in collaboration with the Charlotte Fire Department,
Continue discussions with the Charlotte Fire Department
regarding the possible city takeover of fire services in the
unincorporated Steele Creek area and other areas,
Adjust the Fire Protection Service District tax rate to meet the
departmentsí needs. The current rate is 6.67 cents per $100
valuation. To meet the needs in the countyís recommendation, the
rate would need to increase to 7.6 cents for fiscal year 2021.
County staff do not believe that the current funding model is
sustainable over the long term. The county and fire
departments need to work together to come up with long-term
solutions for providing fire protection in the unincorporated
areas of the Charlotte ETJ.
County staff have not
expressed a need for a Fire Commission to work on budgeting,
long range planning, and other issues for the unincorporated
area of the Charlotte ETJ. Currently the fire
chiefs operate as an informal Fire Commission, but the Steele
Creek Residents Association believes that establishing a Fire
Commission, made up of elected officials, county staff, and
community representatives as well as the fire chiefs, should
be a priority. The Residents Asociation suggests creating a Mecklenburg County
Fire Commission using the Wake County Fire Commission model,
which has been used successfully for about 20 years around the
Raleigh area. See
Wake County Fire Commission.
To view a video of the Budget Public
Policy meeting, see
Board of County Commissioners - 01/14/20.
To view the presentation slides by Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi,
Land Use & Environmental Services Director, see
Delivery Options Presentation.
In 2012, Mecklenburg County created the Charlotte Fire
Protection Service District, which covers the unincorporated
areas within the Charlotte ETJ and is served primarily by six
volunteer fire departments and the City of Charlotte Fire
Department. All property owners within the Fire Protection
Service District pay a tax to the district, and the county
allocates the revenue generated among the various departments.
For fiscal year 2019 the rate was 8 cents per $100 valuation.
For fiscal year 2020, to maintain revenue neutrality after
revaluation, the rate was lowered to 6.67 cents. For 2020 the
estimated revenue is $4,760,799, of which the two Steele Creek
stations would receive $1,120,080.
For a more detailed map
showing fire districts and stations countywide, click on the map above or here:
Mecklenburg County VFD Boundaries.
The six departments are Carolina, Cooks, Long Creek, Robinson,
Steele Creek (with two stations), and West Mecklenburg. The county
contracts with the Charlotte Fire Department to provide fire
protection service in the Charlotte Rural area. The Charlotte rural
area previously was serviced by volunteer departments that have gone
out of business. The volunteer fire departments are separate,
not-for-profit entities that contract with the county to provide
fire services. They are not county agencies.
traditionally had been staffed by volunteers, but the departments
cannot find enough volunteers anymore and are transitioning to a
paid staff. In 2018 the county decided that every station would have
two paid firefighters available for 24 hours, 7 days a week. In
2019, the Steele Creek department received an additional $100,000
for capital needs. For 2020, funding was increased to provide a
minimum salary of $15 per hour, and each department received $50,000
per station for capital needs. (Steele Creek received $100,000 for
its two stations.)
Because development and service needs in
the service district have increased, the county and departments have
agreed that there is a need for refinement in the funding model.
Last year the county made a commitment to the volunteer
departments to evaluate the needs during fiscal year 2020 and make
recommendations as part of the 2021 budget process, to explore
collaborative/partnership opportunities with the Charlotte Fire
Department, and to provide potential strategies for fiscal year 2022
The area covered by the Steele Creek Volunteer
Fire Department has decreased over the years as Charlotte has
annexed new development and the city fire department has taken over
service. Up through 2011, the city had major annexations every two
years, but annexations have practically come to a halt since the
General Assembly changed the annexation laws in 2011 and 2012.
Previously the city could involuntarily annex developed areas, but
now property owners must voluntarily request annexation. Annexation
generally now only occurs when developers request annexation of
vacant land before it is subdivided and developed. Once individual
property owners have purchased lots, voluntary annexation is
The City of Charlotte opened Station 37 on South
Tryon Street near Shopton Road West in 2007. This station is on the
edge of the city limits. They opened Station 38 on Shopton Road West
north of the Sanctuary in 2008. This station actually is outside the
city limits. The city planned to have these stations service areas
that they would annex in the future, but since involuntary
annexations have stopped, these stations are not in the most
efficient locations to serve Charlotte residents.
Charlotte had plans to build a new station in the Youngblood
Road/Palisades area once it was annexed. See
Steele Creek to Get Two New Fire Stations...Eventually (October 4,
For many years after it was chartered in 1954, the Steele Creek
Volunteer Fire Departmentís service area was primarily rural. Now,
they service an area that is increasingly urbanized. The Steele
Creek Volunteer Fire Department now needs to add a third station in
the Youngblood Road/Palisades area and will need additional funding to
provide a staff of 3 firefighters at the new station.
county has acknowledged the need for a third station in Steele Creek
but is also in discussions with the Charlotte Fire Department about
them taking over service in unincorporated Steele Creek. City
stations 37 and 38 could cover most of the area, but a new station
in the Palisades would still be needed. One complication is that the
Palisades area lacks fire hydrants, and fire responders would have
to bring a tanker truck.
Through their discussions with the
Charlotte Fire Department, county staff have identified two
departments, Robinsion and Cooks, that could potentially close
and transition to service by the city because city stations are
located near the volunteer stations and can easily take over the
volunteer department territories.
The county is not
proposing that the city fire department take over service in the
current unincorporated Steele Creek District in the near future, but
it will continue to explore long-term possibilities and options.
The Charlotte budget includes expenditures of 6.36 cents per
$100 valuation for fire services within Charlotte. The current reimbursement rate that the county pays for city fire services
in the Charlotte Rural area is also 6.36
cents per $100 valuation, which is less than the rate needed to pay
for volunteer fire department operations. (However, the city rate
does not cover capital expenditures. Fully allocated, the Charlotte
Fire Department rate is right at 7.0 cents.) In some volunteer
districts, the tax rate does not generate enough revenue to support
the needs of those departments. As a result, just over a third of the tax
revenues collected within the Steele Creek Volunteer Fire District
goes to subsidize other departments.
Another issue is the
aging fire stations. In particular, Steele Creek Station #1 has a
failing septic system that needs significant attention.
county anticipates that a new station in the Palisades area could be
operational by 2023.
County Commissioners believe the
community should be more involved in the review process and have
proposed having Town Hall meetings to share information about near-
and long-term possibilities and options, to present information on
the tax rate needed to meet the fire departmentsí needs, and to
receive feedback. District 2 Commissioner Vilma Leake and District 6
Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell stated during the workshop that they would like to receive resident
feedback at upcoming Town Hall meeting(s) yet to be announced.
The fire chiefs generally support the staff
recommendation but would like to continue negotiation on several
The County Commissioners must decide how to proceed
during the upcoming year by the end of May so that they can
establish the tax rate by the beginning of the new fiscal year in
comment on this story, please click below to visit the Steele Creek Residents Association