PVFD files lawsuit against Weddington

Union County Weekly

By Crystal O’Gorman
June 19, 2015

Firestorm between Providence Volunteer Fire Department and town continues

FullSizeRender smallWEDDINGTON – Providence Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD) has taken legal action against Weddington’s decision to terminate its 10-year fire service agreement (FSA) with the town.

A civil complaint was filed at Union County Superior Court Division of General Court on June 4, in which PVFD claims fault in Weddington Town Council’s cause for termination and demands recourse in the contractual stipulated amount of $750,000.

The filed complaint claims reducing expenses is not a lawful cause to terminate the FSA with the department.

“Only a failure by PVFD to meet its material obligations under the FSA – providing satisfactory firefighting and emergency medical services – would constitute a lawful cause for Weddington to terminate the FSA,” the complaint reads.

It also denies future speculation of financial loss as “cause” for termination.

Weddington Councilmembers Barbara Harrison and Michael Smith voted 2 to 1, with Pamela Hadley dissenting, to approve the termination of PVFD’s FSA and Interlocal Agreement at a special meeting called by Mayor Bill Deter on April 28, after a series of events surrounding concerns about the financial viability of fire department and the town’s ability to continue paying for its services. Mayor Pro Tem Don Titherington did not attend the meeting.

Union County Weekly compiled a history of events that led to the filed court case:

2012: Weddington formed new fire district lines and implemented a municipal fire district funding three stations to serve the town – PVFD, Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department and Stallings Volunteer Fire Department

Sept. 9, 2013: Town council held a public hearing on PVFD Interlocal and FSA agreements. These agreements would allow the town to acquire PVFD’s Hemby Station and its acreage in order to fund renovations to the station required by the state fire marshal, which PVFD couldn’t afford to pay for or expense on credit.

Union County Weekly previously quoted Scott Robinson, PVFD vice president and 2013 mayoral candidate from the public hearing: “The county informed the department that having firefighters sleeping in the building was out of compliance with fire code and that the situation needed to be resolved,” said Robinson, at the hearing. “The renovations now taking place will address the requirements and provide a safe place for the firefighters to stay while standing ready to serve Weddington.”

Oct. 14, 2013: Weddington and PVFD entered into a 10-year FSA and Interlocal Agreement

August 2013:  Weddington took ownership of Hemby Station and the property, agreeing to charge PVFD $1 per year for the next 10 years to continue operations at the station.

November 2014: McGrath Consulting Group (MCG) completed an audit on PVFD at the town’s request, because the 2012 fire tax increase wasn’t enough to fund fire service. The audit recommended consolidating fire services to save money.

January 2015: Clare Meyer, representative of Tinsley & Terry, CPAs, who reported on the town’s audited financial statements, declared the town had received her company’s audited report on PVFD’s financials on June 30, 2014. In the presentation of the report via the town’s minutes it states, “During our audit, we also did a little bit of compliance testing and there were no contractual violations (by PVFD).”

January 2015: PVFD received  an ISO rating of four by the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshall (OSFM), ranking it in the Top 10 percent of North Carolina’s fire departments and as the only volunteer fire department in Union County with a four rating.

Feb. 6, 2015:  Union County Weekly reported the town’s decision to consolidate WCVFD and PVFD, which was being mediated by Deter and Harrison.

“A lot of it is driven by mistrust. When you bring two groups together, that’s a big part of it,” Deter told Union County Weekly. “The roadblocks from the past in my mind have gone away and now we’re going to try to facilitate the new talks. There will always be problems real and imagined, but so far we’ve gotten positive responses from both sides.”

Feb. 26, 2015: Town council voted to give fire tax authority back to Union County and, as Deter said, “get Weddington out of the fire business.” The resolution aspired to end the municipal fire district by July 1, 2015, remove the fire tax and hand over tax authority to Union County.

April 13, 2015:  Town council rescinded the Feb. 26 resolution. A portion of the rescinded resolution reads: “Whereas, the Town of Weddington intends to maintain appropriate Fire Suppression Agreements with the Providence Volunteer Fire Department, the Stallings Volunteer Fire Department and the Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department to provide fire protection services to citizens of the town of Weddington pursuant to Session Law 2013-39 and Article 3 of Chapter 160A.”

During the same meeting, Deter suggested the council terminate PVFD’s contract and enter a new agreement with Wesley Chapel Volunteer Fire Department (WCVFD). Town council voted on a motion to “direct the Town Attorney to create a supplemental fire agreement to WCVFD, and to also prepare for termination of the agreement with PVFD, because of its inability to meet obligations of the town, subject to getting an agreement in place with WCVFD,” as cited in the town’s minutes. Hadley and Titherington were against the motion, but Deter broke the tie for the approval.

April 15, 2015: Town Attorney Anthony Fox wrote a letter to PVFD asking for evidence of its financial stability within 10 business days in threat of termination of the FSA.

April 21, 2015:  PVFD President Jack Parks delivered the financial documentation, reducing PVFD’s budget for fiscal year 2015-2016 to the same as the current budget.

April 28, 2015: Weddington Town Council held a special meeting, in which council voted to terminate PVFD’s contract and start a new FSA contract with WCVFD.

Despite the Union County Board of Commissioners unanimous approval of the resolution requesting Weddington reverse or delay its decision and public outcry in support of PVFD, the council has refused to change the decision to terminate current services by the end of July.

PVFD’s FSA provision states the department is entitled to receive liquidation damages totaling $750,000 from Weddington, if the agreement is terminated without cause.

Deter claimed cancelling the contract would save the department from going under by 2020 and also insisted it would save the town $223,000 to contract fire services with WCVFD in comparison to a contract with PVFD, during council’s April 13 meeting.

At the same meeting, Hadley expressed her discontent about the termination of PVFD not being included on the agenda as a talking point prior to the onset of the meeting.

She also stated she had heard rumors from Tim McGrath of McGrath Consulting Group, who completed the town’s requested audit of PVFD in November 2014, that some councilmembers “would do whatever possible to get rid of PVFD, including being prepared to spend $750,000 to break the contract to get rid of PVFD.”

A court date has not been set by Union County Weekly’s press time.

Visit http://www.unioncountyweekly.com and search “PVFD” for more information about the town of Weddington’s decision to terminate the PVFD’s fire service agreement.

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