Agreement paves way for fire department improvements

WEDDINGTON – After nearly six months of negotiations, the Weddington Town Council and Providence Volunteer Fire Department have approved two agreements allowing for the renovation of the fire department.

Council held a public hearing Monday, Sept. 9, to review and consider an interlocal agreement and fire suppression agreement with the Providence VFD.  No one spoke in opposition to the two agreements – one creating a 10-year contract for fire services in Weddington and the other in relation to the town acquiring the real property from the fire department in return for money needed to renovate the facility.  The council unanimously approved both agreements.

“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,” Scott Robinson, the vice president of the Providence VFD board, said during the public 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.”

After up to $1 million in renovations are complete to the front and rear of the building, the town will own the 8,320-square-foot main building and 1,500-square-foot rear building, as well as the 1.2 acres they are on.  The fire department will still operate out of the facility during the renovations.  According to Robinson, estimates for construction are at about $830,000, and the additional money from the $1 million will go into the department’s reserve fund.

Renovations on the rear building, which the town agreed to fund in May and have cost $200,000, have already been completed.  The department will work from the rear building until renovations on the main building are complete.  Construction on the main building is expected to be complete by February 2014.

The agreement also included a 10-year contract between the town and department for fire services in Weddington.  Previously, Weddington leaders approved an annual agreement each year.

In exchange for selling the property for less than market value, the fire department wanted a longer commitment from the town for services.  After construction is complete, the property and buildings will be worth about $1.5 million, according to appraisals, which is $500,000 more than the town is paying for the property.

“Providence VFD is willing to sell its real property to the town at far less than fair market value in the interest of continuing its partnership with Weddington and having a facility that will allow it to effectively perform its duties,” Robinson said.  “In exchange, the department is asking the town to make a long-term commitment to Providence VFD.”

Either party can still opt to terminate the agreement, but if the town terminates the new agreement it will be required to pay $750,000 to Providence VFD – assuming there is no due cause for the termination.

The department did not originally intend to sell its property to Weddington, but town leaders did not want to spend the taxpayers’ money without receiving an asset for the town, they said.

“Normally you just give the fire department (money) and they renovate the building and they still own it.  What we are doing is saying the taxpayers are going to own that building,” Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry said in an interview with Union County Weekly earlier this summer.  “… Then we are going to rent the building back on a long-term lease to (the fire
department).”

Construction is already under way and is expected to be complete in early 2014.  People visiting Providence VFD while renovations are taking place should go to the rear building on the property.  Voting on Nov. 5 will still take place at the department, but will be moved into the rear building.

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