BEAUFORT – This town’s board of commissioners on Monday agreed to move forward with a plan to construct a satellite fire station near the Core Creek bridge on Highway 101.

But before that happens, the town first wants to get some assurances from the county that it will be reimbursed for the cost.

The town and the county have been working on an arrangement to provide better fire protection services for a swath of residences in the county leading back to the bridge. That area is well outside of the town’s boundaries, but the county contracts with the town fire department to provide services.

While the town is overseeing the construction of the project on a parcel near the N.C. Forest Service building, the county is funding it by levying an additional 1.5-cent fire tax rate on people who would benefit from the service. Total cost for the project, when engineering and other fees are included, exceeds $500,000 and the county doesn’t have all that money available yet.

However, the town can take what has already been collected by the county, which is about $353,000, and pay the remaining amount out of pocket so it could begin construction. The county would then continue to collect that revenue from the 1.5-cent tax and hand it over to the town.

But before doing that, the town wanted some guarantee that the county would continue the tax rate and pay the money back.

The town won’t find out the county’s position until Monday, when the County Board of Commissioners meets to consider the request. Even if the county gives its consent, it’s still only a gesture, as a board can’t commit a future board to such an expense.

But the gesture will be enough for Beaufort. On Monday, Commissioner John Hagle made the motion to contract with Thomas Simpson Contracting for $474,553 to build the satellite station. The motion was contingent on the county giving its approval when it meets, and the town wants 2-percent interest on the $160,000 it puts toward the project. The arrangement is also contingent on the town attorney’s approval.

Town manager Charlie Burgess said there have been some difficulties with working on the project as it predates most people involved. “I know it predates myself. It predates many commissioners on the county level,” Mr. Burgess said.

The benefit of moving forward now is that homeowners will find some relief sooner. Properties outside of a five-mile radius from a fire station, like the ones in this district, are not considered to have fire protection by insurance companies. As a result, insurance premiums are significantly higher than in the town limits, and they recently went up again, said Mayor Richard Stanley.

Before coming to a decision, Mr. Burgess encouraged the board to look at the “greater good.”

“The homeowner needs some relief,” he said.

Under the current arrangement, the town should expect to be repaid in about three years. Commissioner Marianna Hollinshed said the town could get repaid faster, and cut the chances of a future county board from reneging on the arrangement, if it increased the fire district tax rate levied in that area.

Before the vote, Commissioner Robert Campbell reiterated that there were no guarantees the county would reimburse the town 100 percent. Mr. Burgess said every year a board can decide not to obligate money to something, such as a payment on a fire engine, but it isn’t likely. “Certain things you expect to happen,” he said. “I think the funding of a fire station is something we would expect to happen.”

After the vote Mr. Stanley said the town has a responsibility to the people it provides fire protection services to outside town limits.

“We have the obligation to serve them,” the mayor said.

CarolinaCoastOnline.com

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