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Cabarrus to end fire department contract

By Hugh Fisher
hfisher@salisburypost.com
CONCORD — A divided Cabarrus Board of Commissioners voted Monday to begin the process of ending the county’s contract with Jackson Park Volunteer Fire Dept.
Depending on how the county proceeds, some homeowners could see their insurance rates go up as a result.
By law, the letter stating intent not to renew the contract has to be sent 90 days before the current contract expires — in this case, by April 1.
The 57-year-old volunteer fire department’s district is now surrounded by city fire departments in Concord and Harrisburg.
Bobby Smith, the county’s director of emergency management, said that Jackson Park VFD is no longer able to attract enough volunteers and doesn’t have the resources to continue long-term.
Deputy Chief Richard Mauney told commissioners he wouldn’t argue that the department needs assistance.
But he asked for more time to allow them to possibly make a deal with another agency, perhaps maintaining a presence in the community they have served for so long.
Dropping the contract in July would hurt those chances while only saving the county $30,000.
“We know were going to close. We know it’s inevitable. We are just asking for time,” Mauney said.
And he took issue with the idea that the department couldn’t serve the area.
“Our volunteers come out in force. We have never missed a call, never,” Mauney said.
And, he said, volunteers have as much certification as their comrades at other departments.
“We are the third oldest department in the county,” Mauney said. “We’re not fighting. All were asking is to delay it.”
Under questioning from commissioners, Smith stated that Jackson Park VFD had not failed to respond to a call and served the area adequately.
But, he said, other departments would be better equipped to do so.
Commissioner Larry Burrage, citing the department’s long record of service, made a motion not to send the cancellation notice.
But that motion failed, with a vote of 2-to-3.
Commissioner Bob Carruth joined Burrage in supporting the motion.
While making a motion to go ahead and send the cancellation letter, Vice Chairman Liz Poole said she needed more information.
Because the cancellation notice can be revoked at any time, she asked to hear possible alternatives at the May work session.
Her motion to send the notice with that condition passed on a vote of 3-to-2.
Burrage and Carruth cast the “no” votes.
Local residents and businesses have a financial stake in the county’s eventual decision.
The amount of fire coverage affects property owners’ fire insurance costs.
The Insurance Service Office assigns a 1-to-10 rating to fire districts in North Carolina based on coverage available in the area.
A class 1 area has the best fire protection, while class 10 means not even a minimum level of protection.
Homeowners’ insurance rates don’t drop automatically when an area gets better than class 6.
Jackson Park Fire Department is rated class 5, Mauney said.
The Concord Fire Dept. is rated class 3 for areas inside the city limits.
Current rating information for Harrisburg Fire Dept. could not be determined before press time.
The most recent information shows Harrisburg’s best-rated areas at class 5, with lower ratings elsewhere in the coverage area.
Mauney said it was possible that homeowners in the area currently covered by Jackson Park could see higher insurance premiums if the department closes.
It’s likely that businesses in the area would see their rates go down if Concord or Harrisburg took over coverage of the Jackson Park fire district.
But homeowners’ insurance rates don’t automatically change once an area reaches class 6 or better.
So, it’s not guaranteed that Concord or Harrisburg taking over fire coverage would bring homeowners’ insurance bills down.
Speaking outside the meeting room after the board voted, Mauney said local residents had been blindsided by the decision.
He took issue with the idea that Jackson Park VFD wasn’t able to provide top-notch service, and said many volunteers live just minutes away from the fire station.
Mauney said talks were ongoing, but no deal was final.
More importantly, Mauney said, local residents were just hearing that their fire station might close.
He said it was important to give them time to know what was happening and to adjust.
“We’ve got people were trying to look out for,” Mauney said.


In other business
The Cabarrus County Commissioners:
• The board voted 3-to-2 to extend a tax incentive grant to 390 Business Boulevard, LLC.
The company plans to build an 88,000-square-foot building, which could be expanded, in an effort to draw an investor to the area.
Ryan McDaniels of the Cabarrus Economic Development Corp. said that a potential tenant will be visiting the site later this month.
Commissioner Chris Measmer opposed the measure, saying he was ideologically opposed to government “involving itself in private business.”
“By the mere fact that this government body is discussing a private business transaction. we are trying to entice a private business,” Measmer said.
“Then God forbid I ever gave my wife flowers and told her ‘Hi, I’m better than the next guy,’” Chairman Jay White said.
White said he supported the incentive plan because it could attract businesses who might otherwise not know about the opportunity.
The motion passed 3-to-2, with White and Commissioners Liz Poole and Bob Carruth voting in favor of the measure.
• The board unanimously approved an updated project ordinance and cost estimate for the new Board of Elections facility in the Old Creamery building.
Capital funds for the project total just over $2.4 million.
Deputy County Manager Mike Downs said construction should be completed by Aug. 31, allowing about two months for relocation before the November elections.
• The board voted to reject a bid from Steven Wright to buy the old Bethel School property for $10.
Wright, who plans to found a charity entitled A New Beginning, told the board he planned to hold fundraisers to generate the money to refurbish the property.
He said applications for charitable 501(c)(3) status were under way.
Board members suggested he should try to bid again if and when he had a stronger business plan and plan for raising funds for the multi-million-dollar project.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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