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Cornelius City Council mulls fire department funding

An intern grant may soon run out, lowering services unless more money found


At a Cornelius City Council work session Monday night, Cornelius Fire Chief Michael Kinkade told council members the city has three options to keep the fire department operating at its current level: “We can do nothing. We can reapply for a grant. Or we can seek alternative funding.”

Since 2007, the Cornelius Fire Department has been able to fund three interns with a Federal American Fire Grant, said Kinkade. “We reapplied for that grant in 2010 and much to our amazement, it was granted. But the odds of having that grant renewed for a third time are next to nothing,” he said.

With the three interns, the department has been able to maintain 24/7 response services in the fast-growing community.

Without them, Kinkade said, the best options for fire-district residents and businesses would be to place a five-year operating levy on the May ballot or to establish a fee system.

“In any case, we would still apply for the grant. If the levy is approved, or a fee system is in place, and the grant is approved, I’d have to decline it,” he said.

If voters reject alternative funding and the grant is declined, the department — which is staffed mostly by volunteers — would have to seriously reduce its services.

Currently, fire-district residents are assessed $1.20 per $1,000 of property value. Although it’s still too early in the process to know what the costs might be, the possible increases discussed by councilors ranged from $3 per $1,000 to as much as $8 per $1,000.

“Because of the grant, the city is already getting a better bang for the buck than surrounding cities that currently have operating levies,” said City Manager Rob Drake. “All we can do is give the public a menu of options — levy, fees, or risk obtaining another grant — and say ‘It’s your choice.’”

The council will hold an executive session at its first meeting in January to discuss whether to place an operating levy on the ballot or to establish a fee.

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