Landis Public Safety will consolidate fire stations, use federal funding to finance new engine

Published 12:04 am Thursday, April 7, 2022

LANDIS — Board members this week approved the consolidation of Fire Station 44 and Fire Station 58 into one, and will allow the Public Safety Department to sell existing fire engines and purchase a new one.

The vote Monday night came after an hour of contention and disagreement among board members, who approved those measures with a divided vote that required a tie-breaker from the mayor. The board was meeting for a discussion of how to allocate its nearly $1 million share of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Not including the purchase of a new fire truck, the town has spent $82,500 of its ARPA funding to date. That includes $20,000 to hire a fellow from the University of North Carolina system for a year to assist with professional administrative services; $17,000 for unexpected fuel cost increases among Public Works staff; $7,500 to cover special events costs in the 2021-22 budget; $18,500 for materials at the disc golf course and other utilities at Wilderness Park;  $7,000 to cover the cost of pre-audit expenses and $12,500 for a water/sewer line camera.

The purchase of a new fire engine was an initial recommendation from Town Manager Diane Seaford when the board began discussing how to allocate its federal funding in February. She proposed that $300,000 from that pool of money could be used as a down payment for a new engine, with the town financing the rest. The current estimate is borrowing $365,000 at a 4% interest rate across eight years, with the town on the hook for $54,000 each budget year.

The request from Public Safety is threefold. Director Zachary Lechette says selling engines 581 and 442, along with brush truck 447 and Squad 58 could generate around $165,000 in revenue, which could then cover the cost of a new station cascade system. Lechette has also sought grant funding to cover the cost of a new cascade system, so such revenue could instead be put toward the purchase of a new fire truck.

Lechette said the department could then make the existing Engine 443 the secondary vehicle.

Alderman Tony Corriher and Darrell Overcash opposed the purchase and didn’t feel it was ideal to get rid of two engines that both have fewer than 50,000 miles on them.

“That’s not wore out,” Overcash said. “It may not be pretty and shiny like a brand new toy in a toy box.”

Mayor Meredith Smith said “it’s not about a new toy,” and that the fire department should be on an equipment rotation cycle just like other departments. She noted that one engine is a model from the 1980s. Lechette said the department spends up to $30,000 in maintenance costs for both engines per year.

Corriher said he’d rather see that money go to street repaving instead. Smith referenced the current three-year contract for street repaving. In November, the town partnered with North Carolina Department of Transportation to execute a contract with Albemarle-based NJR Group to begin resurfacing town-maintained roads. Approved in the 2021-22 budget is $450,000 to begin that project using annual Powell Bill revenue from the state. Additionally, Seaford has previously told the board much more funding would be needed to meet the town’s needs.

“Just say we want a new fire truck and be done with it,” Corriher said.

Lechette also requested consolidating the two stations as a way to slightly improve the town’s ISO rating, which is currently at a 2. It would help because rather than keeping a minimum of 19 firefighters, they could move to 15 firefighters. The department currently has 21 firefighters, Lechette said, but a consolidation would provide some wiggle room for any absences for vacation, training or sick days. Additionally, the department currently has an engine response average of one despite having three engines. Lechette said consolidation and surplus sales go hand-in-hand as engines are required to be stationed. Ladder 58 would remain at Station 58, which would a satellite station of Station 44.

Mayor Pro Tem Ashley Stewart said he felt there was no “lose-lose” scenario and that it was just a matter of prioritizing services. He noted that public safety, roads, water and sewer are some of the basic necessities the board is responsible for providing. Stewart also said such funding goes hand-in-hand with the budget and that he would like to see the proposed budget when planning for the ARPA allocations.

Seaford said the decision comes down to the board’s priorities, but cautioned the impact of inflation on the upcoming fiscal year budget. She added that she sees no way to budget an additional $50,000 to $100,000 in subsequent budget years to reach the necessary down payment for the new truck without raising taxes.

“I’m telling you as much as you love a fire truck, I think you should vote for a fire truck for the town of Landis,” Smith said.

Ultimately, the purchase of a new engine and the consolidation passed with a 3-2 vote. Corriher and Overcash cast the “no” votes.

Lechette said the department will issue a bid for renderings as the current bay is narrower than average. His goal is to have a contract ready by July or August.

The town also approved using $225,000 to purchase a new leaf vacuum for the Public Works Department, which was a need at the top of the department’s list, Seaford said. It was an unanimous vote.

The town is left with $390,000 in ARPA funding, which they agreed to discuss during the budget planning process. The board will meet for its monthly meeting Monday at 6 p.m.

Also at that meeting, board members formally approved naming the passive park “Linn Memorial Passive Park.” They also voted to create a nonprofit for the park, which would oversee philanthropic efforts while the town continued to own the park. Board members signed off on using $158,365 to order the message center sign rendering and begin the development process. About $286,722 has been received by the town from the sale of its D.C. Linn properties, of which there are about a dozen left to sale.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Fire Station 44 and Fire Station 58 in Landis will be consolidated into one station. The Post regrets this error.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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