Town of Spencer further enhances commitment to community safety

Feb 13, 2024

Spencer Fire Department recruiting additional full-time staff to guarantee adequate staffing

SPENCER – The Town of Spencer is shifting its Fire Department staffing model to provide three full-time staff on its Engine at all times for the first time in its history. The Spencer Board of Aldermen approved this change at a Special meeting on January 30, and the staffing improvements will be phased in between April and June of this year. This change is the result of several years of effort to improve Fire Department staffing.

Historically, the Spencer Fire Department operated on a completely volunteer basis. Over the last few decades, the volunteer model has been less effective at providing adequate levels of personnel and expertise for a variety of reasons. Some reasons include the shift of the Town’s employment base and commuting patterns, and the increased expectations of all firefighters (including volunteers) for state certification and training requirements. This change has not been unique to Spencer, Rowan County, or even North Carolina. The evolution of the fire service is a challenge that communities are grappling with across the United States.

The last few years, while structured with a combination of limited full-time and part-time staff, call-volume has doubled, yet more than a quarter of part-time shifts were left vacant due to the limitations associated with a part-time staffing model. Fire crews and leadership have not been able to perform their job functions consistently due to having to fill roles that were either below or beyond expectations.

After several years of seeking grant funding to help with this transition without success, Town staff focused on identifying a way to make this staffing transition. “Ultimately, for the safety of our workforce and our community, this is a priority need that the Town must address,” said Town Manager Peter Franzese. “Our Board prioritized this enhancement during our 2023 strategic planning process and Chief Lanning and others on our team have done a great job putting together a new model to carry us forward.”

The phased-in approach recommended by the Town Manager allowed the Board to commit to a staffing model to be funded in the future, while using available resources to get started this fiscal year. The Town has already started recruitment for full-time Engineer positions and will launch the full-time Firefighter process soon.

Spencer’s budget process is in the early stages and several factors will determine the FY25 budget recommendation in May. However, initial projections indicate that the FY25 tax rate may need to increase by 7.5 cents per $100 valuation to sustain this change. For the median residential taxpayer (property value of $163,560), this will mean about $123 per year or $10.25 per month more in property taxes. For a home valued at $250,000, the annual increase would be about $188 per year or $15.63 per month. “The return for this community investment that costs less than some monthly coffee runs or streaming video subscriptions, is priceless,” said Franzese.

The Town will continue to provide more information about this important safety improvement and the coming budget process. There is also a special Coffee with the Fire Chief event planned for 5-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday February 20 at Town Hall (460 S Salisbury Ave.) to allow the community to drop-in, ask questions, and learn more.

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