Commissioners talk fire department transparency

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Transparency was a buzzword Monday during the Rowan County Commissioners’ regular meeting, as the board discussed whether to repeal an oversight measure applying to volunteer fire departments.

Commissioners were divided by a 4-1 count, with Commissioner Craig Pierce as the lone dissenting vote, when commissioners decided to rescind a 2012 resolution passed by a board of commissioners that included Chad Mitchell, Carl Ford, Jon Barber, Jim Sides and Raymond Coltrain, who was not present at the meeting. The now rescinded resolution required a public hearing for tax increases in a fire district, advance notice of pre-planned purchases more than $20,000 and the signature of the chairman of the commissioners on letters of approval to financial institutions.

Much of the discussion centered on a potential new contract that would set rules between county government and volunteer fire departments. Commission Chairman Greg Edds and County Manager Aaron Church said county government is working to finalize a new contract with volunteer fire departments. Church said Rowan’s rules for volunteer fire departments are contained in an unusually large number of documents. In other counties, Church said a single contract sets for many of the rules. A similar, single contract could work in Rowan, he said.

Pierce cited transparency as a reason not to rescind the 2012 resolution.

“We all talk about transparency, but whenever we invoke a policy that makes sure you do that everyone gets upset,” Pierce said. “That’s all this was about. If you’re going to receive tax dollars, you need to let the citizens of Rowan County know what you’re doing with those tax dollars.”

Conversely, Edds said the county may be overstepping its authority in keeping the resolution.

“There’s another distinct possibility and that is that we want to micro-manage from the commissioners’ chairs,” he said. “I don’t have much patience for that. I could be wrong, but that is a possibility, and one I don’t think we can discount.”

At one point, Pierce motioned to table consideration of the 2012 resolution, but his motion failed due to a lack of a second.

After Pierce’s motion failed, Commissioner Mike Caskey immediately motioned to rescind the resolution. It was seconded by Commissioner Judy Klusman.

“I believe this is an issue of trust, which is why I would like to move forward,” Klusman said.

The county’s current contract with volunteer fire departments hasn’t expired and technically lasts forever, Church said. The departments are simply looking to draft and approve an updated contract, he said.

Emergency Management Director Frank Thomason said the draft contract is currently under review by his office. In his brief comments during the commissioners’ meeting, Thomason said the myriad of rules and documents could all be combined into a single contract.

In other business from Monday’s meeting:

• Commissioners approved the lease of 24 acres adjacent to the Rowan County Fairgrounds to the fair association by a 4-1 count.

Pierce was the lone dissenting vote. The lease would be for $1 per year. The fairgrounds would use approximately five acres of the property, initially for parking space.

He expressed opposition to the low lease price. He also mentioned an events center currently under construction as a sign of a lack of leadership and poor planning.

“The fair association, I want to support them, but I want them to take responsibility for their own actions, such as the new construction of a building knowing they had limited parking to start with,” Pierce said. “Where did they build it? They built it in their parking lot.”

He said the county should sell the land to the fair association instead of a lease.

• The commissioners approved the purchase of a tract of land in Rockwell for an Emergency Medical Services Station.

The purchase price is $30,000.

The property doesn’t have an exact address, but is listed on Rowan County Register of Deeds documents as being on the east side of Rockwell.

• Commissioners approved, as a part of the consent agenda, a public hearing for a loan application to the Local Government Commission related to the former Salisbury Mall.

The county applied for a nearly $4 million loan to replenish the county’s fund balance from the $3.4 million former mall purchase. An additional $500,000 is included in the purchase to pay for renovations at the former mall.

The public hearing on the Local Government Application is set for April 6 during the commissioners’ 3 p.m. meeting.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.