IOW supervisors vote down emergency vehicle motion

Published 11:29 am Saturday, June 21, 2014

ISLE OF WIGHT—The Fire and Rescue squads came out when a new vehicle lease agreement was coming before the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors on Thursday.

Some stations, such as Smithfield, were OK with it, while others were not entirely comfortable with having the county take full ownership of vehicles previously titled to the departments, including the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department. The supervisors ended up voting 3-2 against the resolution. Chairman Byron “Buzz” Bailey, Carrsville district’s Rex Alphin and Hardy district’s Rudolph Jefferson were all opposed to the bill, while Smithfield district’s Al Casteen and Windsor district’s Delores Darden were for it.

Fred Mitchell, president of the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department, said there were still concerns.

“It wasn’t clear to the citizens on their threat on withholding funds or the rental-lease building agreements,” he said. “I am also afraid that they are going to kick the can down the road on this issue, and try to do it when the citizens are not there. This is the second time in 18 months.”

Mitchell said he had no problem with new vehicles being titled to the county if the county puts up the money for them. Older vehicles are a different matter, as many volunteers have put time and money into them.

“If we move forward and we know beforehand that the options are to raise the funds to buy your own or to take county money, then that’s fine,” he said. “But I don’t think they should repossess the existing stock. Volunteers have been trusted with it. We have taken pride in the vehicles and kept them insured. We have cleaned them, waxed them, put them in parades and won trophies.

“We’ve been practicing it this way for 48 years, and it ain’t broke. But OK, if you want to fix it, and from this point forward any vehicle would be tiled to Isle of Wight, then we can deal with that. But don’t make things retroactive.”

The building-lease situation also concerns him. It was approved in the May 15 meeting, but not all departments have adopted it, including Carrollton.

“One item prohibits us from doing anything in the building without the Fire or EMS Chief’s permission,” he said. “What happens if we sign it, and depending on who comes in, they would interpret the direction of the county on whether or not we can have fundraisers or community events that benefit the communities in our buildings? They could shut us out of our building.”

Mitchell, whose father was a charter member of the organization, also added that many of the items purchased for the building have been paid for by fundraisers, not county money, and the citizens also stepped up with finishing the renovation of the building when the county ran out of money for the project.

“I’m not willing to sign over everything we have been given for our hard work in this community,” he said.

Mitchell did add that Carrollton is willing to get a building-lease agreement done — he just wants the county to come to the table with each department individually.

He just thinks a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work for many of the fire departments with long-standing buildings.

“I’m not trying to be controversial,” he said. “I just want to be treated fairly.”

Chairman Bailey said he voted nay partially because of Jefferson.

“Rudolph Jefferson was a volunteer firefighter for years, and I felt that he had the best knowledge of how the volunteers felt,” he said. “We felt retroactive titling was a slap in the face to the volunteers, the three of us who didn’t want to do it.”

While they haven’t voted on it yet, he said that he felt like the board would approve a resolution going forward that vehicles bought with county money would be titled to the county.

Bailey said the county is not trying to hurt the volunteer fire departments.

“Nobody wants to do away with the volunteers,” he said. “Nobody wants to take anything away from them.”

As far as the building-lease agreements, Bailey said the same thing was true, no one wants to hurt the volunteers with this.

“I’m from Carrollton, and I’ve been supporting them ever since they came into existence,” he said. “They took my father to the hospital, and my mother, and my wife, who ended up dying. They took the wife who I am married to now as well. I appreciate all they do.

“Nobody is going to stop them from doing fundraisers,” Bailey continued. “Who in the world would want to stop that? If they have fundraisers and buy equipment, masks or ladders, then that’s just less money that the county has to come up with.”

Casteen, who voted for the measure, said this is just a matter of being fiscally responsible, particularly in ensuring that the vehicles are insured. No vehicles were going to be taken away, he said.

“We were not going to move any vehicle. It was just all hype and misinformation,” he said. “We just need to ensure that the vehicles are uniformly insured. A $500,000 fire truck could be insured for $500,000, or $0, and the county wouldn’t know. We’re just trying to ensure the welfare of items purchased by the county.”

There’s also been a couple of times where vehicles purchased by the county were sold by the volunteer squad, after the county purchased new vehicles to replace the ones that would go on to be sold. In one instance, the Windsor rescue squad sold an ambulance, and the county purchased it back because it had need for that ambulance at another station.

“We paid for it twice,” Bailey said. “That’s not being a good steward of public money.”

It also happened once before in Carrsville, said Casteen. Smithfield had need of an extra truck with one being down for maintenance, and the county had recently bought a truck to replace one in Carrsville that was still serviceable as a spare truck. But Casteen said the station sold the truck and Smithfield had to buy a different one.

Casteen was just left shaking his head after the vote because they had asked the county administrator to make a recommendation.

“It’s just a shame, all of that work the county administrator did being tossed because folks didn’t want to listen to what we were really saying,” he said. “We were not demanding those that were purchased whole or part by taxpayers, we just wanted it titled to the taxpayers. That’s all.”

Mitchell said the county says that they value the volunteers, but that if that’s true, they are proving it in a funny way. It is hard to trust them, especially since no one came to speak to the volunteer department leaders before they started working on these agreements, he added.

“They value the money that the volunteers save for them since they can’t afford to pay all of the firefights and rescue squad workers like a city program,” Mitchell said. “They are going to lose if they keep pushing and fighting. They are going to see a large tax increase when the volunteers get fed up.

“One ought to not have to fight to volunteer to serve their community.”