Weddington refuses to fund requested construction
Facing issues with funding, a possible merger and potential code violations if they stay in their current station, the Providence Fire Department has some decisions to make. The town of Weddington refused to fund a requested $450,000 in renovations for the current station during their Monday, June 13 meeting, also ending a practice of paying firefighters to sleep in the station overnight.
“I feel it’s time for (Providence) to start partnering with us,” council member Werner Thomisser said. “This is not the Weddington bank.”
The problem for Thomisser and other council members is they don’t want to fund renovations for a fire station that may not exist in a few years. In the past few years, Weddington gave $210,300 to Providence. Even after Union County increased fees for homes in the Providence district to $82.75 for the 2010-11 fiscal year, Providence came up $58,114 short of it’s $517,367 budget, requiring a subsidy from the county’s General Fund. This year, the department lost funding from Mecklenburg County, which equates to $87,500 and Union had to raise the fire fees to the maximum allowed of $100 per single family home, in order to shrink the deficit.
The county’s 2010 Fire Study called for a merger of Providence with the Wesley Chapel fire department, although it did not dictate the terms of the merger or how the district should be re-aligned. Weddington officials are concerned about the department’s ability to survive on its own and helped the two groups form a steering committee earlier this year, to discuss how a merger would work. With those talks still ongoing, council members said they didn’t see a reason why they should pay for renovations.
“Weddington’s influence is controlled almost exclusively by the power of the purse strings,” Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry said, adding the money wouldn’t go away, it would just remain in the town’s fund balance. “If (Providence) addresses the concerns, the money’s there to give.”
Without the renovations however, firefighters can’t sleep at the station, as it would be in violation of the county’s fire code. In 2008, the town council agreed to pay for three firefighters to stay overnight, for a quick response time to local fires. The building has been out of compliance since then, as it doesn’t have a sprinkler system, a fire wall or a staircase to the sleeping quarters that have been used. By not agreeing to fund the renovations, the town basically canceled that arrangement to house three firefighters overnight. Providence officials went to the station after the meeting and told those on duty to go home.
Instead, Thomisser told the council the people in Providence’s fire district could rely on the Wesley Chapel fire station, located on New Town Road, for service between midnight and 6 a.m. He highlighted the fact that 80 percent of the town already relies on Wesley Chapel for service, with just 20 percent still in the Providence district.
“Between midnight and 6 a.m., (an) ambulance or fire truck (from Wesley Chapel) could be in Weddington in less than five minutes,” Thomisser said, adding he had timed the distance during a 2 p.m drive between the two.
That number is inaccurate, according to current Providence chief Darryl Matthews, who also serves with the Wesley Chapel department. He pointed out there’s more involved than just the travel time, as Wesley Chapel volunteers don’t stay overnight at their station.
“If I get the page, it takes two minutes to get clothes on and out the door, four minutes to get in my truck and get to the station, then another five to get to Providence (district),” Matthews said. “You’re looking at an estimated 12 minute response time.”
Thomisser argued that the Wesley Chapel captain lives right across the road from the fire department, so he would have a quicker response time. Matthews pointed out the Wesley Chapel captain works in Pineville from 7 p.m to 1 a.m., so he wouldn’t be available to answer pages.
Funding fire services in Weddington
Instead of funding overnight firefighters at Providence,Thomisser put forward a motion to give the department a subsidy of $236, 520, as opposed to the subsidy of $293,000 the department had requested. Thomisser said that subsidy was designed to pay for fire protection at the station from 6 a.m to midnight, the time period where statistics show Providence responded to the most calls. That subsidy will be paid monthly to the department, after the town receives a bill each month, detailing the expenses of that time period.
Chief Matthews explained that firefighters don’t work shifts in pieces like that, normally working a 12 or 24 hour shift. A majority of the paid firefighters for Providence come from the city of Charlotte and the city of Monroe, Matthews said and since they alternate between the two, it’s hard to piece a 6 hour or 18 hour shift.
“I am sure there are firefighters out there willing to work an 18 hour shift,” Thomisser responded. “It’s up to the board to schedule the way they want to schedule.”
The town council voted to approve the $236,520 subsidy.