Wake Up Western Union County

Union County Pulse

Everyone who lives in Weddington, Marvin, Wesley Chapel, Unincorporated Union County, Indian Trail and Stallings should pay close attention to what is happening in Weddington and the financial woes of Providence Volunteer Fire Department.

Scare tactics about closing a fire station, emotions about safety and ego about service levels are masking the real issue.  Providence as an independent volunteer fire station is running out of money.  Even with more than $1 million that Weddington tax payers have spent in subsidies over the past ten years, Providence still needs more.  According to Weddington Town Council the only way to solve this problem is to create a municipal fire district.

Let’s remove the emotion, the ego and scare tactics from the conversation. Union County is on record that a fire station will always remain in operation at the corner of Hemby and Weddington-Matthews Roads.  From a safety and service perspective, residents in the Wesley Chapel and Stallings VFD districts receive excellent service, the highest insurance ratings and fast response times just like those served by Providence.  Residents are not “in danger” and are not receiving lesser service levels from one station over another.

By declaring Weddington a municipal fire district, the town would make the decisions on behalf of all its residents as to which department will be assigned to each home, regardless of current satisfaction.

Local control sounds great, until you peel back the covers.  This is in reality a re-distribution of the existing fire revenue in Western Union County from one department to another, solely for the purpose of solving the budget crisis of one independent fire station.  It is also anticipated that tax rate increases would still be necessary now and in the future to cover operating costs and capital improvements for Providence.  According to the Weddington Town Council, fire service is “plain underfunded everywhere and we all just need to pay more”.  A municipal fire district puts Weddington in the fire business and every time a new truck or building improvement is needed there will be a corresponding tax increase to pay for it.  By all published numbers the creation of a municipal fire district is the most expensive approach to solving Providence’s financial woes.

Because moving homes from one department to another is not easy, Union County actually recommended that Providence merge with Wesley Chapel, as the best option to improve Providence’s financial situation without a significant fire tax increase.

Weddington should not act in a vacuum and make decisions that impact a wider area without doing the due diligence and hard work necessary to identify the most cost effective approach to fire service, even if that is a difficult decision. Mayor Davidson stated “he didn’t need to talk to the county; he was ready to go it alone”.  Is that what Weddington needs –a mayor and council that do not feel the need to work with the surrounding area and are unconcerned about the consequences of going it alone?

Why is the Weddington Town Council moving as fast as it can toward a municipal fire district?  Besides the obvious political payback, it is the view of a vocal few that it is Weddington’s job to fix Providence’s financials, even though 70 percent of the town is not primarily serviced by Providence.

All area residents need to understand that decisions made in Weddington that move homes from one volunteer fire department to another, have a financial ripple affect across all of Western Union County.  I urge everyone in Western Union County to read about this issue and let your municipal and county leaders know what you think at http://www.westernunionfiresafety.org. We elect them to find the best-most cost effective solutions, to rise above partisan politics and to serve in our collective best interests, not to have an open checkbook. I personally advocate for a solution that looks for economies of scale to spread costs across a larger area and to keep my tax rate as low as possible. If you do not get involved now, expect to pay lots more for fire service.

Stephanie Belcher

Weddington Resident

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2 Responses

  1. Here’s my question, Mrs. Belcher. What changed for you from the campaign season to now? When you ran for mayor last fall, you stated in the Union Weekly Q&A that “as the county has been unwilling to take a clear leadership position on updating district lines to more adequately reflect population shifts, Weddington needs to manage its own safety needs. A move to a municipal fire district will allow the town to directly contract with the fire departments for the level of service it needs.”
    Here’s the link to the Q&A….
    http://www.unioncountyweekly.com/election2011/2011/10/weddington-mayoral-candidates-q-a/
    Look, I live in Hemby Bridge and we’re extremely content with our department, led by Johnny Blythe. But what happens with Providence will impact all of us when the lines get changed, I agree with you on that. If there’s a reason you changed your mind, I would just like to know what was the driving force.

  2. We do not support the new fire safety change. We live in Weddington,
    but are served by the Stallings Fire Dept., which is closer to us mileage
    wise than any other.

    Thanks.