2017-03-16 / Front Page

City will consider upgrades to fire station next month; expenses already budgeted

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The need for an updated Washington Fire Department station was a main topic of conversation for the City Council Monday night as preliminary information was presented in anticipation of a vote on the matter next month.

Having evaluated the current fire station’s condition and the length of time since it was updated, Mayor Ames Barnett has consulted with Clifton Construction for the design of a fire station which would remain within a budgeted limit and still accommodate the needs of the department. The fire department itself has also adjusted its existing budget, by cutting other expenses, to include a monthly amount covering the cost of the upgrades.

“I have looked for the best ways possible to do something to this fire station,” Barnett said. “We’ve got to do it. We can keep patching and putting Band Aids on it to push it down the road, but at some point in time, the fire station has got to be done.” The mayor explained that he charged the fire department with incorporating a 15-year payment into its budget, “And they have done that, so it’s in the budget.”

Clifton’s proposal is for a flat fee of $223,000 to design the building and manage its construction in order to be complete within six months. The City of Washington will assume certain contractor duties to make the project more cost effective.

“We are only going to pay for the design of what we can afford to build,” Barnett said. “If you have any questions and you want to call during this next month, I can run through the numbers and give you more detail about it,” he offered.

One of the specific needs of the fire station is better living conditions. Firemen spend as much time there as they do at home, and yet they are having to share beds which, according to Councilman Peewee Armour, are little better than cots. That makes it hard to recruit new firemen and even harder to compete with fire departments in surrounding areas, according to Barnett.

“They’re not going to come work in Washington with the environment they are in right now at the fire station,” he said. “So five years down the road when someone is retiring and we need another fireman, we need a nice place to recruit new men.”

In another matter, Councilman Kimberly Rainey inquired about the city’s arrangement with the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement inside the city limits. City Administrator Sherri Bailey explained that the agreement must be complete by April 15 and that the city intends to keep the amount it pays, $500,000 for the year, the same.

Barnett reported that he had talked with the sheriff. “They are not intending on asking for more money, and we’re not intending on paying them more money,” he said, indicating that both he and the sheriff “think things are going good.”

Councilman Maceo Mahoney questioned why couldn’t the city revert back to its own police department with the $500,000. “You can’t do it for $500,000,” Barnett said. And Bailey said she had done some preliminary research.

“We can look at the numbers again and show you that you cannot provide what we’re getting right now for $500,000,” Barnett said. He said that amount might provide for two officers on duty at all time but would not cover the expenses of a chief, an investigator, and other things.

Mahoney continued, “It’s not working. We don’t even get a report about what’s going on in the city. I have to read about it in the newspaper.”

Barnett pointed out that the liability of a police department was also a big consideration.

In other business:

James Meech was appointed to fill the unexpired term of James Thomas on the Planning Commission.

Use of The Square was approved for the Wills Memorial Hospital Parade of Beds and Cancer Detection Walk on March 25. Funds raised will help provide equipment for the hospital.

Use of The Square and the closing of a portion of Robert Toombs Avenue were approved to accommodate the annual Independence Day fireworks display scheduled for July 3.

Use of The Square was approved for the Washington Optimist Club 5K on April 29.

Mahoney pointed out that there is no contract between the city and the Municipal Court Judge. City Attorney Adam Nelson offered to submit one for approval.

A contract for the administration of the 2017 Community Development Block Grant, which would fund Phase III of the sewer rehabilitation project, was approved.

Councilman Marion Tutt reported that the previous Friday’s meeting between council members and power company officials was “one of the most productive meetings” he had ever attended as a councilman.

Bailey reminded those in attendance of job opportunities forthcoming from the opening of Southern H Forest Products and also the Youth Detention Center which is under construction.

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