Last year, Corolla Fire & Rescue (CFR) proposed a plan to create a special fire service tax district that it believed to be in the best interests of taxpayers and the CFR volunteer force. CFR proposed what was considered appropriate and adequate for Corolla based on its status as a “rural” fire district. Our proposal was for a fire service district that placed 2 paid firefighters at each station, working about 45 hours per week, to support the volunteer force under the direction of the CFR Fire Chief. Our detailed cost estimate was that the “CFR Plan” would not cost more than 4.0 cents/$100 and would be 1.5 cents/$100 for the first two years and 3.0 cents/$100 in the third year if a requested grant from FEMA came through (which it did).
The County Plan instead creates a paid force modeled after an “urban” fire department that will place 13 firefighters in Corolla at all times, including a Captain and two Lieutenants. The County has stated that it intends to take over responsibility for fire suppression, even though it does not have previous experience in any of the other fire districts in the County or in working in a beach environment. In the first year, the County proposes a 5 cent/$100 tax including taxpayer relief from the FEMA grant. As the paid force squeezes out the volunteers, more paid staff will be required. It can be expected that turnover rate among non-officer firefighters –- and, thus, training costs — will be high due to having to work 56-hour weeks with only 3 hours overtime pay, long commutes in beach traffic, lack of fire action in Corolla, and the ability to get higher paying jobs in Virginia after they get their “ticket punched” here. Using the same cost model we applied to our plan, we estimate that, by Year Four, the tax rate will need to be raised to about 8.0 cents/$100.