Providence votes to reject merger talks, council researches district costs
The town of Weddington is once again looking at what it would take to create a municipal fire district. Council members voted 3 to 2, with Daniel Barry and Werner Thomisser in opposition Monday, Feb. 13 meeting, to start preliminary contract discusssions with the three fire departments that serve Weddington, while collecting more information from the state.
Council members also heard from the Providence Volunteer Fire Department’s board of directors, who announced that at their Sunday, Feb. 12 meeting, they voted unanimously to reject any consideration of a merger with the Wesley Chapel fire department.
“After a year of diligently evaluating a merger in connection with representatives from Wesley Chapel VFD, the board of Providence feels strongly that a merger would not be in the best interest of the citizens of Weddington and therefore will no longer be considering this as a viable option,” Providence board president Jack Parks told the council. His comments were also included in a letter, sent to the county fire commission, fire marshal Neal Speer and county commissioners. In other comments before the town council, Providence board members presented an offer, also from their Sunday night meeting. The board offered to provide first response EMT medical services for the areas identified as closest to the Providence station, as additional aid to the Wesley Chapel and Stallings departments, without any compensation from the town.
Parks was one of several people who spoke about fire services before the council vote. Many argued for or against creating a municipal district.
“We all want the best services (and) we all want the closest station to serve us,” Weddington resident Stephanie Belcher said, arguing that it was a county issue. “Union County’s not at the table. This decision affects way more than the town of Weddington.”
Her comments were echoed by fellow resident David Basiri, who pointed out that if the fire departments were companies, there wouldn’t be any discussion. If the most efficient way to run the business was to merge, Basiri said, they would be merged and things would move on.
Other residents argued that Union County has had years to fix the funding problem for fire departments and hasn’t.
“Union County has really dropped the ball on a lot of infrastructure projects,” Weddington resident Eric Anderson said. “I feel time and time again in the past, they’ve dropped the ball. There’s no reason to think next time will be any different.
The problem is that Providence needs funding in place for the fiscal year starting July 1, with a current budget estimated at $523,000. Revenues are only expected to drop between now and 2013, as the department looks to solve its compliance problem with the fire codes. In 2008, the Weddington 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.
The question is how to find that funding. Creating a municipal fire district would mean Weddington would be responsible for drawing the fire lines and signing contracts with different departments to cover the area. The new maps, presented by Providence, doubles their coverage area, to include most of Weddington, to generate $1.3 billion worth of total property.
Under the plan, Wesley Chapel would lose $62,262, while the Stallings department would lose $9,266.
Losing property is what concerns Wesley Chapel, as the fire department is in the middle of building a new fire station, a move planned for by determining how much they would bring in through fire taxes, with a tax base currently worth $5.46 billion.
Weddington residents said it was time for the town to take care of itself and let other municipalities do the same.
“Government exits to support the people,” resident Brenda Stone said. “Weddington has evolved from a rural farming community to a more densely populated community.”
Fellow resident Andrew Moore said he was frustrated due to the fact that in the past year, the council had spent money on decorations and other items, while the infrastructure needs were shifted to the back burner.