2017-04-13 / Front Page

Council votes to build fire station, tables vote to fund air conditioner

By SPARKY NEWSOME
editor and publisher

The City of Washington will build a new station for its fire department after a surprising unanimous vote at Monday’s meeting of the City Council cleared the way for the project.

Following months, even years, of planning and financial adjustment, the $800,000 design/build project will be handled by Clifton Construction Co. with the city assuming certain duties as the primary general contractor. The only reservations expressed were by Councilman Kimberly Rainey, who indicated that she is still concerned by the overall cost and the 15-year term of the loan; and by Councilman Maceo Mahoney, who was also concerned about the expense but consoled by the current buildup of capital reserve funds.

Mayor Ames Barnett reiterated his stance that it would not be wise to spend money refurbishing the 67-year-old building and that “it would be like putting a new motor in an old car.” He also pointed out that working through a traditional arrangement with an architect could lead to cost overruns, change orders, and extra design fees. The design/ build approach eliminates those extra expenses, he said.

“We have taken out change orders and the built-in profit made off of change orders,” Barnett said. “What we are doing is taking more responsibility and becoming sort of the general contractor. We feel like we will be able to manage the project and stay away from those cost overruns.”

Continuing, the mayor said, “When we pay for this design, it’s actually the design we will get. Of all the ways we could build a fire station, this is the cheapest way to do it.”

As pointed out previously, conditions are sub-standard in the living quarter of the current fire station and firefighters must share beds and other things. The building is old and needs more than just refurbishment. The conditions, Rainey said after touring the facility Monday morning, actually changed her mind on how to vote on the proposal.

Barnett again pointed out that the City of Washington can’t match the salaries and benefits offered by some of the surrounding areas to attract firefighters. “But we have to be able to compete to keep our department staffed. We can’t pay more than other counties, so what’s going to attract [firefighters] is going to be the conditions that they live in and the way we treat our employees.”

Washington Fire Chief C.J. Gilland said the department’s 11 full time and 19 volunteer firefighters have an average response time of just three minutes anywhere inside the city limits. There is also a good turnout at fires which contributes to the city’s ISO rating which is now down to two.

The department also responds to fires and rescue situations in all areas of the county when needed.

“You may not use the fire department a lot but we’re like insurance. If you ever need us, we’re there,” Gilland said. “We do a little extra training; we do more pre-fire plans; and we just try to beef ourselves up because we want to show our appreciation for what y’all are doing for us.”

Mahoney said the reason he was supporting the measure was because of the capital funds that the city has saved throughout the year. “I feel confident, since we have $775,000 in capital funds, that if we run into some hiccups down the road we can access those funds.” He also asked that “since [the fire department’s] overtime is high, around $98,000, that you come up with more incentive for the volunteer program.”

After the vote, Barnett said to Gilland, “Chief, you’ve got council’s full support. You should feel awesome, and tell your guys we appreciate what they are doing.

At the request of Mahoney, Washington Wilkes Parks and Recreation Director Alvin Jones presented an impressive report of programs and opportunities ongoing at the Pete Gartrell Community Center.

Averaging some 70 kids per day, Jones enumerated programs for soccer, guitar lessons, track and field, basketball, and others. He said there will be summer camp this year held in the mornings and evenings as well as the continuation of the summer food program coordinated in conjunction with Family Connection and Communities In Schools of Wilkes.

“We have a hunger problem in Wilkes County,” Jones said. “As adults in the community we have an obligation to help folks eat. We have about 1,750 kids in the school system and it is our inherent obligation to take care of those babies. They are absolutely our future.”

W-WPRD meal programs will start on June 5, Jones said. Specific details will be published as they are made available.

Mahoney asked about the relationship between the W-W Little League organization and the W-WPRD and questioned $3,000 in Little League expenditures coming out of the W-WPRD budget while none of the Little League registration fees go into the W-WPRD budget.

“At the end of the day,” Jones said, “we’re just helping children and there are over 200 out there playing baseball. We’ll work it out.” He pointed out that the situation predates his employment and probably exists because no one has actually “sat down in a room and had a conversation.”

Concerning the need for an air-conditioning system in the gymnasium at the W-WPRD facility, Jones pointed out that it had been 82 degrees inside that day “and it’s April.” He said during summer months in the heat of the day it could actually become dangerous to conduct programs in the gym.

Mahoney then surprised the council with a motion to fund half the cost of an air-conditioning system for the gymnasium. The expenditure would be $21,151.

Since councilmen Mike Scarborough and Rainey both serve on the W-WPRD board and had not yet suggested such funding, Barnett suggested that the proposal be handled by that board first and then returned to the city council. Scarborough moved to table the motion until the board could discuss it and Mahoney’s motion was tabled.

However, there was apparent agreement that the city would approve the funding as Mahoney requested but the lack of advance notice of the motion was against the policy for normal procedure.

“Over the next month,” Barnett said, “the administrator and I will see where we can get some money to fund the Parks and Rec air condioldtioner.”

Scarborough said the board is working on securing grant funding for the air conditioner. “That’s why we’re not ready to ask for money yet,” he said.

“I believe this council will support an air conditioner at Parks and Rec,” Barnett said. “I have two kids that play up there and I know how hot it gets. So I know how important it is to this community.”

In other business:

. Barnett reported that the city has regained its Main Street USA status from the state after the designation was lost some years ago.

“That’s good news,” he said indicating that the designation will be helpful for securing grants and other funding. “We want to publicly praise Elizabeth Elliott for the hard work she’s done to get the Main Street designation back.” Elliott is Main Street Director for the city and works specifically with the Downtown Development Authority.

“The whole town looks beautiful to me and the street department has done an awesome job getting us ready for spring, the Tour of Homes, and the Masters,” Barnett said. “I want to thank Bobby [Mills] and his guys and the whole city staff for what they’ve done.”

. Barnett also mentioned the city’s spay and neuter program which treated 108 animals last year and 33 so far this year. “If half of those animals are females, that’s over 2,100 puppies and kittens we won’t have to raise at the animal shelter over the next five years,” he said. “There are still 67 more spots available so come to City Hall and get it done.”

Councilman Peewee Armour thanked Rayle EMC for its recent donation of a pickup truck for use at the animal shelter.

. A contract outlining duties and responsibilities of the Municipal Court Judge was approved effective January 1, 2017.

. A temporary pouring permit at The Pope Center was approved for Ducks Unlimited on April 28.

. Rainey thanked the Washington Fire Department in advance for its help with the Easter Eggstravaganza this coming Saturday. She also thanked the city administrator for setting up tours at the fire station, water plants, museums, etc. and said that such tours should be requirements for all councilmen.

. Mahoney asked about paving that has been done on Lincoln Circle and Administrator Sherri Bailey explained that deep patching had made some modifications in the original plan necessary.

. Councilman Marion Tutt reminded those in attendance of the job fair on May 4 saying, “We have the qualified people in Wilkes County to get these jobs.” He urged those interested to be prepared.

. Tutt also expressed concern over expected MEAG electric rates in the coming months and years.

. Use of The Square was approved for the W-W bands spring concert on May 2, the National Day of Prayer on May 4, the installation of historical plaque on May 6, and Pedaling for Paws on September 15, 2017.

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