12/18/13 — County merges several VFDs

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County merges several VFDs

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 18, 2013 1:46 PM

People living in Wayne County fire districts that are planning to merge can expect the same level of service they have been receiving in the past, several fire chiefs told the Wayne County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Residents of the East Wayne Fire Department District will see lower insurance premiums and a lower fire tax once the department merges with the New Hope Fire Department. However, that merger, as well as the merger of the Faro and Eureka fire departments, will not reduce the quality of services those communities now enjoy, the chiefs of the four departments said.

All four stations will remain open.

The former East Wayne station will be renamed New Hope Station 2/East Wayne. The merged Faro-Eureka department will be renamed Northeast Volunteer Fire Department.

Wayne County Fire Marshal Bryan Taylor briefed county commissioners on the mergers Tuesday.

Taylor also said that Pinewood Volunteer Fire Department officials have indicated they plan to dissolve the 54-year-old unit.

Taylor said he had not yet received an official letter from Pinewood.

"I have been in contact with Pinewood, and they have stated that they are starting the process of dissolution, basically closing the doors," he said.

The department is working with a lawyer on some issues with its charter, he said.

The mergers have been the topic of ongoing discussions for several years and were most recently spurred into action by the findings of a survey of county fire departments by the Volunteer Fire Insurance Services, the chiefs said.

At issue is not finances, but manpower, they said.

"The name is going to be different, but nothing is changing," Faro Fire Chief Randy Gray said. "As far as service to our community, we are going to provide the same service. We are going to be saving money for our taxpayers because of equipment. We won't have to double up on equipment.

"Our biggest thing is manpower, (now) having to certify a roster for 40 people -- 20 at Eureka and 20 at Faro. As it is now (when merged) we have to have one roster with 28 members and that will be for station one and two."

Merger has been discussed for at least 15 years, he said. The two departments work closely together and have trained together for at least the last eight years, he said.

Gray said the departments hopes to have the merger completed by the end of June.

The change is 90 percent administrative, Eureka Fire Chief Mike Brock said. There will be one set of line officers, one board, one chief and one board president so that people not have to double up as a line officer and board member, he said.

Brock said he has been questioned about the name change.

"The reason we are changing the name is by serving two different communities with two different names, to make us feel like one department as a whole, we felt like it would be better to come up with a new name," he said. Northeast was the first suggestion and everyone liked it, he said.

"One thing that I want to impress on everyone is that in no way did the county go to these departments and request this," Taylor told commissioners. "These departments came to me. It was something that they had discussed for several years now."

Once the mergers are complete, Taylor said he would be back before commissioners with new fire district tax and service area maps.

Also, a public hearing has to be held prior to consolidation to consider new response districts for tax purposes, he added.

The East Wayne and New Hope goal is to complete their merger by the end of March, Taylor said.

Faro and Eureka have the same fire tax rate, 8 cents per $100 of property value, and same fire insurance rating of 6, so there is no change there, Taylor said.

However, the New Hope fire rating of 5 and tax rate of 6 cents will carry over to East Wayne, resulting in a "tremendous insurance savings," he said. East Wayne's current tax rate is 8 cents and its fire rating is 9.

The lower fire rating could save an average of about $500 annually on insurance premiums for an average-sized home, New Hope Fire Chief Donald Gray said.

During the meeting Commissioner Steve Keen credited the Wayne County Firemen's Association for its role in the mergers. However, the four fire chiefs said that the association had not been a part in the process and had not even discussed the VFIS study.

"The association has had nothing to do with this," Faro Fire Chief Randy Gray said. "No one from the association has contacted us, or asked us anything. The review done by the county was passed over to the association. It has not been brought back up. This is something we did."

"The association was not included in our project at all," New Hope Fire Chief Donald Gray said. "It (merger) has been talked about for years and years."

The survey kind of sparked a renewed interest, and the idea seemed to pop up more and more, he said. Donald Gray said that East Wayne Fire Chief Lenwood Earl Sauls had approached him and asked if they could talk about a possible merger.

"It is good for the community," Sauls said. "We have been looking at it for at least three years. I am pleased we can do this."

Commissioner Chairman Wayne Aycock praised the fire departments on their willingness to merge.

"This was a very difficult decision for these fire departments to make," Aycock said. "I want to commend them on not thinking what is best for the fire department, but what is best for the citizens they are representing."