Durham looks to combine city, county fire departments

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham City and County leaders are considering doing away with the county’s fire department and instead making one large city department.

In Durham County, when there’s a fire or emergency the county’s fire department responds.

However, county officials say they’re concerned just how long they’ll be able to answer those calls.

“Our tax revenues to support what the fire department does, would get smaller, and smaller and smaller. And it will be much more difficult to provide the level of service that is needed at a rate that the tax payer is comfortable with,” said Jim Groves.

Groves is the Durham County Fire ,arshal and County Emergency Management director.

He says as parts of the county are absorbed into the city’s property, the county’s tax base is dwindling.

That means less money for operational cost, which Groves says is a big concern.

“It was pretty painfully obvious that there would be a time in the future where firefighters would be let go, and we would have to shut down stations,” he said.

Groves says instead of letting that future arrive, the county and the city started working on a plan to merge. For the last year and a half, the plan has been worked out, and now both governments are looking to make a final decision.

The county’s fire department would consolidate into the city’s department. All 53 current county firefighters would be able to work as city employees.

County firefighters would keep their current salary, and benefits. However, due to different requirements, ranking county officers might need to take training or get further certification to keep their ranks.

County residents could see a 2- to 3-percent tax increase, which would equal about $45 per $200,000 household. It’s important to note, if no decision is made, Groves says county residents could face tax increases anyway to keep up with the demand for fire service.

Officials say both city and county residents would get stronger emergency services.

“I think we both agree it’s worth taking those risks, because we think the benefits for our residents and citizens outweigh those potential risks,” said Bo Ferguson.

Bo Ferguson is the Durham Deputy City Manager.

He says for the last year and a half the city has worked with the county to create the best option for employees, and residents.

“Really for the tax payer, it’s a win. There is going to be less tax dollars spent in a combined department,” said Ferguson.

Durham County Commissioners and Durham City Council will vote on this plan in March. If the plan passes, it will take effect July 1.

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