Embers still burn over Weddington decision to terminate fire contract

Union County Weekly

Residents voice support for PVFD after contract terminated by town

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WEDDINGTON – More than 150 citizens packed into Weddington United Methodist Church’s Helms Hall to express frustrations with the Weddington Town Council’s recent decision to terminate a fire suppression agreement with Providence Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD) at the council’s meeting on May 11.

The town agreed to a new contract with Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department shortly after the termination notice was sent.

Twenty-seven residents stood before the board during public comments and stated financial, professional and personal reasons for their opposition. Much of the crowd jeered Mayor Bill Deter and applauded the speakers, some holding signs stating “Fire Deter.”

Speakers such as PVFD Secretary Judy Johnston, PVFD Lieutenant Travis Manning, PVFD President Jack Parks and resident Joe DeSimone, among others, scrutinized the estimated $233,000 financial gains for Weddington being touted by some councilmembers.

WCVFD’s new agreement requires four firefighters to be stationed at Hemby Road 24-7, states that the department will work to maintain an insurance rating of six at the least, and requires that WCVFD keep the current level of fire service from the Hemby Road station. The new contract does not include any information on how Hemby Road will be acquired or leased by WCVFD.

Manning voiced concern with the potential financial loss of $3 million worth of fire apparatus.

“Look at me and my firefighters and tell us what we’ve done wrong,” he said. “My men don’t deserve this.”

Julie Moore claimed the one-year contract with WCVFD gave way to a potential increase in monthly costs or a decrease in level of service too soon, because WCVFD will need additional compensation to acquire the Hemby Road fire station and provide the same level of service residents currently receive.

PVFD President Parks cited evidence of a $76,000 cost reduction presented to town council upon the town’s April 15 request. Parks said Deter mocked the budget documentation, which Parks called “a complete comprehensive snapshot of everything this service is capable of providing.”

Parks also attested that the preliminary budget, discussed later in the meeting, presented a potential subsidiary savings of just $16,360.

“That savings is only $3.80 per piece of property and $1.64 per person that lives in Weddington,” Parks said.

Nancy Anderson

Some residents, including former Mayor Nancy Anderson, challenged the level of professionalism of a council that would terminate a contract with the highest safety rating in North Carolina.

Anderson spoke about how she wrestled with the same problem when in office; however, she felt there had to be a better resolution.

“You promote top performers, you don’t dissolve them,” she said. “We could maintain integrity and pool the money and expertise we are about to lose.”

Jerry Fitzgerald argued the mayor shouldn’t liquidate a fire department with high performance ratings and cancel the contract against the residents’ desires.

“Mayor, if you complete the closing of this fire department, you will ignore the voice of your constituents, totally disregard the input of county commissioners and insurance commissioners, terminate 47 jobs and end a 60-year tradition of community service all to satisfy your personal agenda,” Fitzgerald said.

Deter has said a recent request from the Union County Board of Commissioners will have no effect on the town’s decision, and neither the termination of PVFD nor the deal with WCVFD can be reversed.

WCVFD Chief Steven McLendon has said his department is offering all PVFD firefighters the chance to apply to keep their jobs at the Hemby Road or other WCVFD stations.

Janice Pope

Residents such as Sam Delan and Janice Pope spoke about personal reasons for standing in defense of PVFD.

Delan’s hand was caught in a wood splitter last year and said PVFD took two minutes to reach him.

“We won’t get that kind of service anywhere else,” he said.

Councilmember Pamela Hadley was the only town council representative to respond to public comments at the end of the meeting. She expressed her discontent about the way the resolution was passed and said she felt residents weren’t given fair chance to voice their opinion, such as public comment being prohibited on the night the resolution was approved.

“I want to voice my displeasure of how citizens have been treated,” she said. “Words have not met actions, and actions have come and gone like spring showers. Citizens who care enough to be engaged should be and their voices given careful decision. This is not the case in this issue.”

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