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Cornelius fire levy passing in early election returns

Early election returns at 8 p.m. Tuesday evening indicated the Cornelius fire levy would cruise to an easy victory with more than two-thirds of the vote.

“Joyous and grateful” was how Cornelius Fire Chief Michael Kinkade described his feelings at seeing the overwhelming support.

Kinkade said community members who had gone door to door to encourage people to support the levy had collected statistics that indicated 65 percent of likely voters would vote yes. But he also knew that was an unscientific poll. So it wasn’t until the first numbers appeared and he saw the 69 percent support that he stopped worrying.

"Oh God, yes," Kinkade said Tuesday evening, when asked if he was relieved. He emphasized how grateful he was that the community supports the Fire Department.

Earlier that day, City Manager Rob Drake had joked in an email that the News-Times might not want to quote him if the levy failed: “And the City Manager said ##@@@%&*%$ and furthermore he commented )+(()&%&$$!!@#!!!!”

By 8:15 p.m., however, Drake was feeling pretty good. “Oh wow. It’s fantastic. And the people of Cornelius really understood how critical this is.”

The five-year operating levy will help fund nine firefighter interns who are currently the backbone of the Cornelius Fire Department staff. For each 24-hour shift, one of three career firefighters supervises two to three interns, providing enough people to staff a fire engine if an emergency arises.

"Without the interns, we literally couldn't respond to calls," Kinkade said recently, when describing the levy's importance.

The levy will add 48.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to property tax bills for the next five years, or approximately $97 per year for a home valued at $200,000.

Unlike an increase in the city's General Services Fee (which would likely have been approved by the city council if the levy failed), the levy is progressive, meaning people with less money and lower-value homes would have a correspondingly smaller tax increase.

In addition as part of the property tax, the levy will be deductible at income-tax time.

The levy even got grudging support from former mayor Neal Knight, who thought city officials could have found a different, better way to handle the fire department's budget needs.

Nonetheless, "I will vote yes to higher taxes this time because as a business owner, it's cheaper than the added fees to my water bill," he said.

The levy will go into effect in July, when the current grant program supporting the interns expires.

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