Board passes resolution, asking commissioners to sign off on proposal
Tired of delays, the Weddington town council agreed to start the process toward creating their own fire service area during a series of meetings Monday, Oct. 10.
After a lengthy discussion with county commissioners, the Weddington town council voted unanimously to move ahead with the project. Creating a municipal fire service area means the town would be responsible for drawing the fire lines and signing contracts with different departments to cover the area.
“The county commission abdicated their leadership and lobbed the ball back to us,” Weddington Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry said. “We spent two hours with them and they couldn’t answer the questions. Well, with or without you, we’re moving now.”
Barry’s sentiments were echoed by other council members.
“We’ve been trying to get them to cooperate since earlier this year,” Weddington council member Werner Thomisser said. “Its time for us to step up, with a municipal fire district.”
The frustration for Weddington council members came from the fact 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.
“Six out of the eight concerns (from Providence) have been met,” County Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said, encouraging the town to let merger talks continue. “To me, that’s tremendous progress. It’s my responsibility to exhaust every option.”
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.
Additionally, Providence requested an opportunity to rotate members off the joint board after three years, with a total of one third of the new board to come from Providence. In earlier steering committee talks, the two sides had agreed on three members, but the full department rejected that proposal when it was brought back. Finally, Providence said they’ve asked for Wesley Chapel’s financial information, beyond just the yearly budget, for the last eight months and hadn’t got it.
The announcement surprised Providence board members at the meeting, who said the issues hadn’t been addressed.
“That discussion (on fire services) has been going on for the last eight years,” Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson said. “We would like to explore a municipal fire district. We think it would work better if the Weddington town council had those discussions (about drawing fire lines and signing contracts).”
Town attorney Anthony Foxx presented the council with two options, as to how they want to proceed. Currently Weddington contracts with Providence and Wesley Chapel fire districts, through the county’s system. Before the town can create its own district or fire area, Foxx said, it needs to get the county’s permission to pull out of its current one.
If the county refuses, the only other option, Foxx said, is to request Rep. Craig Horn or Sen. Tommy Tucker to create a local act at the state level, granting Weddington the authority to govern fire services in town.
Council members voted to pass a resolution, asking the county to release them from the current agreement and acknowledge that the town would be taking control of fire services within its boundaries, although council members saw little hope of that passing quickly at the county level.
“They will drag their feet and not vote on it,” Barry said, speaking of county commissioners. “They know it’s coming.”
It’s unknown what impact the change will have on property tax rates. Once the municipal district is established, Weddington residents will no longer get two bills, one for property taxes and one for fire fees. Instead, it will come in one bill, with a breakdown listing how much property taxes cost and how much for fire protection.
Weddington asked staff members to have the resolution sent to county commissioners, in time to be voted on at their Monday, Oct. 17 meeting.