WILLIAMSTON – A fire tax increase is coming for Martin County citizens.

The Martin County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve an increase to the Martin County fire tax earlier this month. The increase is to help assist the EMS departments around the county financially be able to hire and maintain additional staff.

The discussion began during the August Martin County Commissioners meeting’s public comments.

Oak City citizens Ricky Cannon and Butch Beach expressed their concerns regarding the decrease in volunteers for the EMS stations throughout the county, and the strain it was having on the volunteers available.

The concern was regarding the five EMS stations in the county that were primarily operated by volunteers, and the lack of EMS certified volunteers.

Martin County Telecommunications may receive a call for EMS assistance and an ambulance may have to travel from another jurisdiction to assist because there is a lack of volunteer available or the ambulance was assisting elsewhere.

Cannon and Beach discussed the challenges in finding certified EMTs willing to volunteer for the local department.

Beach explained their were training expenses and many hours put into becoming an EMT and many were not going to take a volunteer position when they can be hired into a paid position.

Both men recommended the county look into converting the departments into a county-wide EMS system with paid employees or at least assisting the five departments with paying for an additional employee.

The reason for the additional employee at each station is to guarantee there would be someone available if needed.

The Martin County Commissioners said they would discuss the options at the Sept. board meeting.

At the Sept. meeting, the Martin County Commissioners discussed the options again.

The EMS departments in across the county have all mutually requested a one percent fire tax increase to help cover additional salaries for one additional employee per EMS station.

“The county could be able to provide $100,000 for five positions at $20,000 each,” said Martin County Manager James Bennett.

“We don’t advocate for a tax raise, but its the best way to get funding with the decline of volunteers. It is not going to fix the problem, but will buy us some time,” said Cannon. “EMS takes so much training and education.”

Martin County Commissioner Joe Ayers stated that he knew EMS was having a hard time getting staff not only in Martin County, but in other areas too.

Ayers made a motion to allow $100,000 be used for in five $20,000 increments to assist in hiring additional EMS staff at the five stations in the county. Commissioner Emily Biggs offers a second. The motion was unanimously passed.

The next regularly scheduled Martin County Commissioners meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct 13 at the Martin County Government Building, 305 East Main St. in Edenton.

Due to COVID-19, A limited number of individuals are allowed in the commissioners’ room. The public may attend virtually.

Thadd White is Group Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.