04/11/06 — Fire department bill forces poll shift

View Archive

Fire department bill forces poll shift

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on April 11, 2006 1:49 PM

Voters will not cast ballots at the Belfast Volunteer Fire Department this year after the Wayne County Board of Elections denied the fire department's request for $1,500 to cover expenses incurred on Election Days.

Wayne Board of Elections Director Gary Sims said he was notified by the fire department Friday that it's board of directors did not want the county to continue using the facility. The fire department is located in Precinct No. 5 and the county has 30 precincts.

Sims and his staff searched throughout the precinct, which includes the northern part of Goldsboro, for another building in which to hold the election and found the Belfast Pentecostal Holiness Church willing to provide space.

"As far as I'm concerned, there is no kind of argument or issue. We have a new place and we are going to use it. We had one that thought us being there was inconvenient and another that has opened their doors to us," Sims said.

Members of the church could not be reached for comment, but, Sims said, the church provides better parking than the fire department and is also handicapped accessible.

"I don't want to sound too cheesy, but I think we've been blessed with the church," Sims said.

The Board of Elections will continue to look for an alternative to the fire department before the 2008 presidential elections, Sims said.

Belfast Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Gurley said his board of directors sent a letter to the county's Board of Elections last October requesting additional funds each year to cover expenses incurred by the board of elections during primary and general elections each year.

Sims said it is a courtesy each year to provide the fire departments and other polling locations with $25 each to pay for any cleaning costs after every primary or general election. The letter sent by the department's board of directors requested $1,500 for the entire year.

Sims said the Board of Elections received the letter but didn't respond because the the amount could not be addressed suring the current budget year.

Gurley said the amount was calculated by the department's treasurer and includes compensation for the cost of toilet paper, paper towels, soft drinks, snacks, electricity, water and Internet services used throughout the year during elections.

Gurley also said the influx of voters each year causes problems for the department, hurts the volunteers' ability to serve the community and could increase the department's liability insurance.

"The biggest thing isn't the money -- we are there to serve the community. The big thing is our liability insurance. If someone falls or gets hurt while they are at the station, (the cost is) on us," he said.

While people were at the station voting, some would park their vehicles in front of the fire trucks, impeding on the station's ability to serve the community, Gurley said.

Also, after an election, the station would not have Internet access for days or weeks because election officials used the service while at the station, Gurley said, and the Internet is critical to the department's success.

"That's how we send in our fire reports. If we can't use it, then we can't send them in," Gurley said.

After sending the Board of Elections the letter in October, Gurley said the department did not receive any kind of response until the board sent the fire department a letter on March 22 stating the board deposited a non-refundable $75 to cover expenses for the November 2005 general election, this year's primary and a second primary, if necessary.

"We sent them a letter and they didn't get back to us. We feel they blatantly ignored our letter. We gave them six months. I think that's ample time for them to find somewhere else," Gurley said.

He also said if Board of Elections officials had replied to the October letter, any problems could have been resolved.

"Lack of communication put us in the position we're in now," Gurley said.