WEDDINGTON — While the Weddington town board has already voted to move forward with the creation of a municipal fire district, concerns regarding staffing, rising tax rates and coverage linger.
The town council voted earlier this month to move forward with a new municipal fire district pending approval from the department of insurance.
As it stands now, the town is poised to contract with the Providence Volunteer Fire Department for its coverage, when for years the town has been served by the Stallings and Wesley Chapel volunteer departments, in addition to Providence. But under the municipal fire district, Providence would be the sole provider and only call on the other two departments for backup.
The initiative to create a municipal district is being lead by Mayor Walker Davidson.
In a letter dated March 20, Davidson made his case stating, “Our goal is to create a fire service model where the citizens of Weddington can freely choose the level and the cost of fire service they deem to be the most appropriate for Weddington.”
But Ken Fasanaro, a Weddington resident, full-time firefighter in Charlotte and Wesley Chapel VFD volunteer, said a municipal district is not what the town needs and if the town’s goal is to save money, this isn’t the way to do it.
The problem Fasarno has with this plan is that while the Providence VFD may have a quicker response time because of proximity, he believes the department is understaffed during night shifts and has to rely solely on volunteers. Under a municipal fire district, the department would need additional staff and engines to meet the needs, which in turn would raise tax rates, he said.
“I’m not saying the Providence department doesn’t have the skills to do the job, but we operate as a team and you need certified people who know the job to show up in numbers to handle the worst situations,” he said. “They can handle 90 percent of it, but my fear is they’re convincing the town they can handle everything and I know for a fact they can’t.”
Fire commission member Johnny Blythe said he and the board have similar concerns, and tried to identify some of the key issues during a public meeting a few weeks ago at Weddington High School, but only one council member was present.
He said personnel is one of the biggest issues with any fire department, but especially Providence and echoed Fasarno’s statement regarding the need for more manpower, equaling a need for higher tax rates.
Blythe said another issue is the need to sign coverage agreements with departments like Wesley Chapel and Stallings for backup. But those agreements are voluntary and no department is obligated to sign them.
“What is Plan B if Weddington cannot reach an agreement with Wesley Chapel? Is the town going to build and staff additional stations at a major expense to provide this coverage?” he asked.
He said this happened recently in Cramerton in Gaston County.
Additionally, Blythe said Weddington’s decision could impact other areas in the county.
“The impact on other departments is the county needs to be considered,” he said. “The potential exists that costs could increase in other parts of the county as well.”
And while the fire commission never told the town not to install a municipal district, they did suggest combining Providence and Wesley Chapel to have one administrative structure and one fire and rescue service delivery system for the community at one cost or tax rate.
Blythe said this was supported by the county-commissioned fire study, which looked at the aforementioned issues.
But Davidson disagrees.
“I have no interest in a merger,” Davidson said. “Because I think more of the people of Weddington will have more control over the fire department in a municipal scenario and can use elections (for) town council and the board of directors of the volunteer fire department.”
Davidson said Providence has stated they’re also not interested in a merger.
“No one can force a merger, we’ve made our motion and that’s the direction we’re trying to go in,” he said.