Archived News

Swain County finalizes budget

Swain County finalizes budget


hit, volunteer numbers have dwindled more than ever. In addition, the demands of the modern workplace and family commitments have made it harder for people to find the time to volunteer.

A contingent of local firefighters showed up, including Bryson City Fire Chief Charles Bryson and Alarka Fire Chief Keith Powell. Bryson was blunt in voicing his concern.

“The model we’ve used for the last 30 years won’t work anymore,” he said.

The men lamented how much of their time is taken up simply completing the necessary paperwork and that even just one employee whose job was to handle administrative tasks would go a long way.

“Having two paid personnel to take care of documentation, take care of trucks, and do record keeping — they don’t fight fires — would help,” Byrson said. “Volunteers don’t have time for admin work.”

Loftis expressed concern that paying a couple of employees at each department may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of unpaid volunteers, causing some to leave departments.

“If I wasn’t picked, I might just hang up my boots and go home,” Loftis said.

However, the firefighters present expressed that they have pride in being volunteers and enjoy the work; they simply wanted some of the burden eased by adding those paid employees.

Although property taxes weren’t raised to create those paid positions at fire departments, King brought up the possibility of using a fire tax specific to each fire district. For that to happen, each district would need to provide a petition to the board of commissioners, and then the tax would come before voters in the districts. If 35% of the total voters in a district vote in favor, the tax will be passed and implemented.

Having those paid firefighters is likely to lead to lower homeowners’ insurance rates; paying on the front end may actually save money overall.

“The public has to pay whether we impose a fee or tax or it’s the insurance,” Carson said.

“They go out and measure road miles from the station 5 miles out,” Bryson said. “People within 5 miles see improved insurance rates as ratings are lowered.”

Nonetheless, Parton expressed concerns over raising taxes in general.

“When we raise taxes on people, we’re hurting someone we don’t even acknowledge,” he said.

Seagle said either way, public safety is something that should always be seriously considered.

“When it comes to emergency services, I think more about lives than I do money,” he said.

The board agreed to revisit that item at the upcoming June 17 meeting, adding that it could potentially include funding for some paid positions through a budget amendment.

The final item they discussed at that meeting that didn’t make it into the budget would have provided some kind of home for foster children who are currently under the care of the county. Right now, paid county employees work shifts to stay with those kids every hour of every day.

“I’d venture to say we’ve spent a couple hundred thousand on a home for a couple children, and it’s not getting any better,” King said. “We can’t find anywhere for them.”

King mentioned that similar scenarios are playing out in counties across the region as more foster kids enter the system. For example, King said Jackson County has three kids living in the basement of a county facility. He ultimately recommended that the town purchase one or more homes suitable to house several foster children — perhaps something similar to the Broyhill Children’s Home in Haywood County.

“This is not going away, this is something that’s going to be here,” King said. “The county is trying to take care of kids in their custody.”

While the town is currently paying $2,300 per month to rent a home where county employees can watch over foster children as necessary, using a county crew to build a new house that could do the job might come in around just $80,000. The savings would be immediately noticeable.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.