Occupancy tax money to help kick-start new Corolla fire service

By on April 10, 2018

Corolla Fire and Rescue is one step closer to becoming the first fire department in Currituck County to be staffed around the clock with paid  personnel.

The new, combined Corolla Fire and Rescue Department is expected to be up and running by May 1, Currituck County Manager Dan Scanlon told commissioners during an April 2 meeting.

Once established, Corolla’s two fire departments — one at Whalehead, the other at Pine Island — will each be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by four paid firefighters and EMS technicians, along with a fire captain, who will be county employees.

Additional support will come from volunteers, said Tim Bosthaph, the chairman of the Corolla Fire and Rescue Service’s board of directors.

Occupancy tax revenue will be used to get the service up and running before the start of the summer tourist season. Currituck’s Board of Commissioners, acting as the county’s tourism authority, approved a budget amendment April 2 that transfers $485,000 from occupancy tax funds to the new combination fire and rescue system.

The biggest upfront cost will be turnout gear for 19 new firefighters, Scanlon said. The new hires will also be trained as first responders.

During the tourism authority meeting, County Attorney Ike McRee and Scanlon both said that use of occupancy tax revenue was appropriate for getting the new service under way. Occupancy tax revenue also pays for additional sheriff’s department costs for patrolling the beach during the summer season.

The county has also received a SAFER Grant from FEMA. The program — Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response — will pay for 75 percent of salaries and related personnel costs for the new hires for the first two years of the program, followed by 25 percent for the third year.

In addition, the county is in the process of creating the Corolla Fire Service District. Once approved, property owners in the district will be assessed an additional tax to pay for the service.

The Corolla Civic Association and Corolla Fire and Rescue worked together to gauge support for a paid fire district, and letters regarding the proposed tax were sent to more than 4,000 Corolla property owners. Bostaph said that 94 percent of property owners agreed with the plan.

“The property owners elected to pay the tax,” Bosthaph added. “That’s why it’s only in Corolla and not a countywide thing.”

Corolla has experienced a quantum leap in the number of fire calls, Bosthaph said. The fire department responded to more than 400 calls over the past year, while the department’s roster of volunteers has declined.

“The ages and numbers of our volunteer force is changing rapidly,” Bosthaph said. The average age of the department’s volunteers is between 60 and 65, and as current volunteers retire, new volunteers haven’t signed on to replace them.

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  • Al Marzetti

    Our new Fire Chief, Rich Shortway, has just been successful in recruiting 7 new volunteers under the age of 40. All it took was a more focused and better recruiting effort and letting the younger folks know that they would be welcomed. Chief Shortway and Battalion Chief John Brennen also led the effort that improved the ISO rating for Corolla Fire & Rescue to a 5, just barely missing a 4 rating. We’re fortunate to have this leadership.

    Wednesday, Apr 11 @ 11:58 am
  • Surf123

    Finally a legitimate use of the occupancy tax funds. Dare County has never followed the letter of the law with their occupancy tax money, using it as more of slush fund for their whims.

    Wednesday, Apr 11 @ 12:41 pm
  • corollagirl

    Actually this is not a permissible use of OT funds under Currituck’s statute. Fire service along with police and EMS were taken out when the statute was revised and OT rate doubled in 2004.

    Friday, Apr 13 @ 7:21 pm