ROSEBORO — The town of Roseboro isn’t ready to buy into a plan, approved by the county last year, which allows fire inspections to be done by the county on a contractual basis, but places the responsibility of billing and collecting on individual towns.
Roseboro mayor Alice Butler informed board members Tuesday night, that the time has come for the town to make a decision about the fire inspection process. An alternative to the plan is for town’s to seek their own fire inspector. The board wasn’t ready to make a decision at Tuesday night’s meeting, therefore tabling the idea until more information could be obtained and questions could be answered.
For years, all fire inspections within Sampson and its towns have been conducted by the county, which simply cannot continue doing that without fees and more personnel, Emergency Management director Ronald Bass has said. Due to a high volume of inspections, county personnel are behind on completing jobs.
State law indicates that counties are under no statutory obligation to offer such services within incorporated municipalities. The cost of building inspection services is offset somewhat by the fees paid by those citizens or contractors requesting such services. However, the absence of a similar fee for fire inspections does not allow the county to recoup costs.
With the county action, towns essentially have two options: assume responsibility for fire inspection services within their jurisdiction or have the county continue to do it at a cost. But, according to Butler, it isn’t just those buildings within the town limits of Roseboro the town would be responsible for collecting. The town’s ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction) would also fall under the responsibility of the town.
“The county has been doing the inspections and not charging the businesses,” Butler said. “Now, the way they have asked us to do set it up, the county will do the inspections and the businesses will come here and pay.”
According to Butler, the town has recently learned that Roseboro would serve the county as a collection agency, being held responsible for collecting payment of the inspections done within the town’s limits, as well as the town’s ETJ area.
“That threw a loop for us,” Butler added. “We are not even aware of all the ETJ businesses and we would be collecting the fee from them and sending to the county.”
For businesses not within a town’s limit or ETJ area, the county will bill for the inspection fee and be responsible for collecting the fee.
“So, everybody is going to have to start paying for inspections,” commissioner Ray Clark Fisher asked. “What are businesses paying taxes for?”
Roseboro, in addition to other towns, is now questioning the responsibility of collections from ETJ areas, and Butler said before the board makes any further decisions, she suggested waiting to gather more information about the town’s responsibility as a whole.
Board member Richard Barefoot toyed with the idea of the town not participating, to which town clerk Tony Blalock said, the town doesn’t have a choice.
“The N.C. General Assembly is the one that passed this law,” Blalock shared. “We are going to have to participate. The question is, do we want contract with the county to do our inspections or do we on our own try to find qualified inspectors to do that job for us.”
According to Blalock, if the town doesn’t complete the inspections, the town will be fined.
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” Fisher said. “Nobody has a chance with all these taxes and this stuff on top of it. What are they trying to do, run people out of the country. They want businesses to come to town, but want to charge them all this extra stuff.”
Barefoot said he felt the town shouldn’t commit to participating until the county advised how much the inspections will cost and provided more information about the town’s responsibility to the county.
In September, Bass submitted a request for additional staffing and a fee schedule that would allow the county to conduct fire inspections countywide to meet the requirements of the Fire Prevention Code as of July 1, 2016. The fees will ensure no additional cost is shouldered by the county. According to the county’s approved proposal, inspection fees will range from $50 for structures 5,000 square feet up to $250 for those greater than 100,000 square feet.
An invoice for all inspection and permit fees will be issued to the respective business, which will remit all fees to the jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction will be responsible for collections and the Fire Marshal’s Office will provide a monthly statement for payment to each municipality.
According to Bass, Sampson County, unlike most jurisdictions throughout the state, has not implemented inspection fees to defray the cost of delivering the service.
“We charge for fire events,” Bass said, “but not for fire inspections. We believe adopting an inspection fee schedule would be the best option in moving forward to fund the additional staff necessary to do countywide inspections efficiently and equitably.”
If the county continues to perform all the inspections, two additional inspectors would be needed, Bass said at the time. If the City of Clinton — where the majority of the inspections are conducted — assumes inspections within the city limits, only one additional inspector would be necessary, he noted. With the City Council’s decision to hire a fire inspector made at last week’s meeting, only one inspector will be necessary in the county.
The Roseboro board tabled any decision until more information was provided from the county and clarification on the ETJ area is made.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.