Heated exchange over fire district

I got a hint of the complexity of the relationship between town and county governing bodies after watching Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt address the Orange County Board of Commissioners not long ago about the matter of Chapel Hill becoming the official first-responder to fires in the extra-territorial jurisdiction.

At its Feb. 11 meeting, Town Council discussed some ETJ residents’ request that Chapel Hill include their neighborhood in its fire district so that those ETJ homeowners could get a break on their fire insurance. Although Chapel Hill fire trucks are the first on the scene in that area because of a Mutual Aid Agreement with nearby jurisdictions, the Chapel Hill fire district is limited to property within town limits.

Some council members pushed for annexation of the ETJ neighborhood, but property owners there made it clear they would resist annexation initiatives. Town manager Roger Stancil advised the council to extend its fire district in exchange for a 15-cent tax per $100 valuation of property, the best deal for the town, given that ETJ residents could appeal to become part of Carrboro’s fire district for a 10-cent tax, or continuing as is, providing fire coverage for free. Council authorized Stancil to extend the fire district but only for two years, while working on annexation.

However, the county commissioners met the following week and voted for the contract to run five years, with a clause that would allow the town to terminate with a year’s notice. Kleinschmidt argued that opting out would inject a political move into an already charged relationship with ETJ residents. He also posited that the concept of an ETJ was no longer workable because changes in state law basically have eliminated annexation, even though the town provides fire and police protection and building and planning department resources for the ETJ.

Nevertheless, county commissioners held firm to the five-year contract and seemingly didn’t understand that they couldn’t just order the town to comply. Kleinschmidt explained that Town Council would have to vote to amend its instructions to Stancil (which it did at its Feb. 27 meeting). Commissioners repeatedly harped that they needed to strike a deal that was best for Orange County residents. Kleinschmidt called them out: What about the Orange County residents who live inside Chapel Hill town limits who are paying higher taxes to subsidize ETJ residents who don’t want to be annexed to town despite enjoying town services?

When one commissioner said that ETJ residents were in this pickle through no fault of their own, Penny Rich pointed out that ETJ residents had the power to fix the problem themselves by asking to be annexed. Other commissioners, though, seemed almost hostile toward the town.

On March 21, the commissioners and council will hold a joint meeting at Southern Human Services. On the agenda is the topic of working together to encourage annexation or address issues of a no-longer viable ETJ concept.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Nancy

     /  March 15, 2013

    Diogenes — Thanks to your comments, I’m learning Latin. You don’t happen to know Spanish, do you? I really would find it useful to brush up on my Spanish.

  2. Many

     /  March 15, 2013


    Suficiente! or Ya no mas! or Basta!

    I tend to agree with Bonnie. (and apparently his-honor) that the tools of ETJ and annexation are broken.

    Perhaps the ETJ notion is an idea whose time has past.

    風向轉變時,有人築牆,有人造風車 “when the direction of the wind changes, some build walls, some make windmills” – Chinese Proverb

  3. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  March 15, 2013

    Crickets on whether UNC and Town have contract for the CHFD providing fire service for campus…

  4. Many

     /  March 15, 2013

    Yea. His-honers presentation might not have gone over so well 🙁

    I wonder what 15 cents per hundred is on the university properties 🙂

  5. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 15, 2013


  6. DOM

     /  March 17, 2013

    This is NOT something we should take lightly.

  7. Mark Marcoplos

     /  March 17, 2013

    “風向轉變時,有人築牆,有人造風車 “when the direction of the wind changes, some build walls, some make windmills” – Chinese Proverb”

    Or we grovel and ask permission from the NC leg to do what we want.”

  8. Many

     /  March 18, 2013

    Some would call that making windmills.

  9. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  March 20, 2013

    The governor’s proposal to cut $138,000,000 from the UNC budget doesn’t bode well for the CHFD– does this mean no further contribution to the F.D. budget?

    Many(whoever you are): I found this link to a list of capital investments over the past year, and more, at UNC. http://chapelhillpublic.novusagenda.com/AttachmentViewer.ashx?AttachmentID=11267&ItemID=2126

  10. Many

     /  March 21, 2013

    Hi Deborah,

    The 138M represents cuts across the whole UNC system, NC State, UNC, NC Central A&T etc. I do not have intimate details of the cuts, or the projected impacts to UNC specifically.

    The capital investment sheet is for just UNC Chapel Hill only. The only suspect item (to me) is $3,500,000 Finley Golf Course Club House Addition – and that looks as if it is being funded by gifts. (I just wonder if the money was earmarked for the project or could have been used to fund more important research).

    This brings up the subject of the UNC endowment which is in the exclusive club of Universities with endowments over 1 billion dollars. In 2012 was $2.179 Billion (just UNC CH) this is somewhat remarkable in a list dominated by private universities (Duke has 5.55 Billion). Certainly UNC CH is a very wealthy university, but those monies do have spending constraints.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colleges_and_universities_in_the_United_States_by_endowment

    North Carolina has one of (if not the) best public secondary education systems in the country. Despite recent scandals and criticisms, the system is a terrific boost to research, economic development and employment. I hope the NC Leg is aware of the impacts and consequences of the cuts statewide. I hope certain members of the NC Leg are not using the current opportunity to settle old scores and narrow political agendas without regard for the consequence.

    UNC is not alone. I think there are lessons to be learned from what has happened to the UC university system after state cuts were introduced in the late 1990’s. These cuts are about to fall very hard again on a weakened system with Prop 30. Hopefully we can do better in North Carolina.

    As far as fire protection goes, I hope and pray there is not a tragedy like the fire at the Phi Gamma Delta frat house in 2006. Certainly the houses are by far safer than they were seven years ago. If there were a fire, I am certain Chapel Hill fire (and other departments) would respond as they did then, with all of their might, but under funding the Chapel Hill fire department is a risk and a gamble. I wonder if the accountability for a preventable tragedy would stretch all the way to Raleigh.

  11. DOM

     /  March 21, 2013

    “As far as fire protection goes, I hope and pray there is not a tragedy like the fire at the Phi Gamma Delta frat house in 2006.”

    What about a rogue asteroid?!