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ECFD eyes new or hike in fees

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Elizabeth City Fire Department is proposing new or increased fees that would apply to street vendors, building construction and more.

City councilors are set to call for a public hearing on the new fees during tonight's council meeting at city hall. If they accept city staff's recommendation, the hearing would be held at the Feb. 25 council meeting; councilors could consider enacting the fees after the hearing.

The new or increased fees would apply to operational and construction permits, based on a report from City Manager Rich Olson and Fire Chief Corey Mercer. Based on their report, the fire department would charge $50 for permitting certain short-term structures and events, including amusement buildings, carnivals, fairs, exhibits, trade shows, and setting up tents or canopies. It would raise fees for allowing explosives up to $100; they’re currently $25 or $75.

In construction permits, their report also calls for new, $50 fees on approving compressed gas, flammable/combustible liquids, hazardous materials, industrial ovens, private fire hydrants and more. It would also raise the permit for new, automatic fire extinguishing systems from $25 to $100; it would keep the current, additional charge of $1 per sprinkler head.

Reviewing existing systems would go from $15 to $50, the memo also shows.

To view all the proposed increases, go to cityofec.com and view the agenda item for the Feb. 11 council meeting.

Mercer presented the fees to city councilors during their finance committee meeting on Thursday. The fire department has not changed its fees since 2008, but the city has grown and there have been changes to fire codes.

He also said the fees were comparable to those charged by other departments; according to his report, the city reviewed the fees from the fire departments in Greenville, Fayetteville, Rocky Mount and Asheville.

All those communities are several times larger than Elizabeth City. The smallest, Rocky Mount, also charges $50 for tents, carnivals and fairs, and charges a flat $100 for a construction permit for automatic fire extinguishing systems. Greenville also charges similar amounts.

While Elizabeth City's proposed fees are similar to some other departments, it's not clear from Mercer's memo what the ECFD's costs are for reviewing those permit applications.

In a followup interview Friday, Olson said the increased fees would help raise some additional revenue for the fire department, where staffing levels are a concern for city councilors.

Notably, city councilors supported hiring several additional firefighters last year, but the city could only find enough money to cover one new position.

Olson said city staff hadn't yet estimated how much money the increased fees would raise, but the revenue wouldn't cover another firefighter.

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