Commission suggests Weddington move forward on its own
If Weddington wants a fire district, they should tackle it on their own. That was the word from Union County commissioners, who postponed a vote on the town’s resolution. Commissioner Tracy Kuehler had requested the resolution, which asks the county to release Weddington from its current fire agreement, to be added to the agenda. That request failed 3 to 2, with Kuehler and fellow commissioner Kim Rogers the only ones in favor.
Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said he hoped to have a discussion on the issue, but wanted to ask staff a question before adding the item to the agenda. After being told his question was out of order, Thomas voted against discussing the Providence issue.
“The county manager asked for more time to review (the resolution),” Thomas said, adding that he just wanted to ask if staff had to time to go over the resolution.
Fellow commissioners Jerry Simpson and Todd Johnson agreed, saying there wasn’t enough time to go over the document before the meeting.
“Our staff has not had a chance to review it, our legal staff has not had a chance to review it,” Johnson said.
Simpson said he also wanted to make sure staff had time to review the document, so the commission could make an intelligent decision.
The three page resolution details the history relating to the Providence fire department’s funding struggle. It then asks the county to sign off on Weddington withdrawing from the county fire district.
Kuehler questioned why the resolution needed to be studied, since the county was told the same thing in their joint meeting with Weddington’s town council Oct. 10 and asked county staff to research what would be required to move to a fire tax district two weeks ago.
“There are some things that need to be considered,” Kuehler said. “I didn’t see any reason to delay this til November.”
The problem with the delay for Weddington is that Providence needs funding in place for the budget year starting July 1, 2012. In order to do that, Weddington would either need county permission to pull out of its current fire district or ask one of the state lawmakers to create a local act, granting the town the authority to govern its fire services.
With the short session of the General Assembly not meeting again until next spring, it’s unclear if a local act could get passed in time.
Commissioners support merger
Thomas also said he couldn’t support what he saw as a tax increase for residents, whose fire taxes would increase in the new district. Instead, he believed merging with Wesley Chapel was the ultimate answer.
“I believe the merger is the way to go,” Thomas said, adding again that as he understood, six of the eight concerns raised by Providence had been addressed. “I believe the merger is the most cost effective way.”
Commissioners kept going back to the concept of a merger between the Providence and Wesley Chapel fire departments, something that has repeatedly been tried, only to be shot down time and again.
The concerns Thomas referred to come from a list presented to the Weddington town council during the last meeting in September. The issues included a request to create new by-laws and a new name for any merger. The third issue included 24 hour staffed coverage at the fire department, which Wesley Chapel currently doesn’t have.
Providence Board President Jack Parks told Union County Weekly no concerns had been addressed, asking how that was possible since it would require a vote of his board, which doesn’t meet again until November.
“I got a letter from Butch Plyler Oct. 11, the day after the Weddington meeting,” Parks said. “In it, he included some comments about our concerns. I haven’t taken that to my board, we haven’t talked about it.”
Parks also wondered why the county would announce concerns have been addressed, without asking Providence if that’s the case.
“It seems to me since Providence Fire Department is the one with the issues, shouldn’t Providence be the one to say when the concerns have been addressed?” Parks said.
Weddington town council members can take up the issue at their next meeting Nov. 7. County commissioners won’t meet again until Nov. 21.