At a special meeting on Thursday, February 16, the Alexander County Board of Commissioners met with leaders of the county’s volunteer fire departments. The main topic of discussion was the location and construction of a training facility for emergency services personnel.
At the board’s February 6th meeting, Fire Marshal Mark Earle presented a proposal to commissioners regarding a training facility on leased property at the Taylorsville Lions Club Fairgrounds. At that time, commissioners determined that a meeting with the fire chiefs would be beneficial to gain input from each department.
“We wanted to meet this evening to discuss the issues of our volunteer fire departments, especially the proposed training facility,” said Chairman Marty Pennell, who is also serving as Interim County Manager. “The safety of our citizens is our main priority, so we wanted to have an open dialogue with our fire departments to ensure that we adequately plan for the future.”
Scotty Abernathy, Fire Chief for the Stony Point Volunteer Fire Department, was the first chief to speak.
“Stony Point Fire Department supports a training facility 100 percent with community college involvement,” Abernathy said. “Hopefully, the college [Catawba Valley Community College] is willing to spend some money on the facility, but if not, the county would need to fund it. We must have certified classes for our firefighters. You can have instructors, but without the college behind you, there’s no certification.”
Numerous other fire chiefs and fire department representatives echoed his remarks, with some requesting that the training facility be located on county-owned property.
Rusty Graham, CVCC Director of Fire Protection Technology and Emergency Management Programs, was also in attendance at the meeting. Graham said he was not authorized to discuss funding, but ensured commissioners that CVCC is interested in being a part of the project.
“We want to do something positive here, but I can’t guarantee a dime at this time,” Graham said. “I encourage you to contact the senior leadership at the college. Once that’s done, there can be a financial conversation. I believe the training facility should be done on this property [CVCC Alexander Complex].”
Graham also shared the news that CVCC is starting an emergency management academy, which will be located in Alexander County.
Commissioner Ronnie Reese expressed his appreciation to the fire departments for their dedication and commitment to the safety of citizens.
“We manage taxpayer dollars and it’s hard to satisfy everyone, but please know that we have you on our minds,” Reese said. “We’re funding our fire departments at a higher level, but we just can’t do it all at one time. We understand that we have fantastic fire departments across our county.”
Reese inquired about the amount of smoke and water runoff if the training facility was to be located at the CVCC complex.
Graham replied, “I’ve worked 16 years at our training facility, and there is minimal smoke during trainings, which are mainly after dark. With only 200-300 gallons of water per exercise, there’s also not much runoff.”
Matt Jordan, Fire Chief for Taylorsville/Central Alexander Fire Department, said, “I’m excited that we’re this close to constructing a training facility here in Alexander County. I started in firefighting 30 years ago and a training facility was being discussed then. I also agree that CVCC needs to be involved. I’m glad that we can have open meetings where we can talk and ask questions.”
Commissioner Kent Herman said he has been in contact with state officials regarding the county’s requested ¼-cent local option sales tax.
“There’s a good chance that we will get this tax approved, and it will help emergency services,” Herman said. “I appreciate all you do, but we must be thrifty with funds. I don’t want to spend the money for a training facility and the fire departments not use it, so I’m glad to hear this discussion tonight.”
Commissioner Larry Yoder said he also believes the dialogue has been beneficial. “It’s not an easy job to be a firefighter, and I’m proud of the job you do. I wanted to get the opinions of our volunteer fire departments and CVCC because I had heard differing opinions. The community college is a vital asset to our community as it provides more opportunities. I think a training facility is needed and we will get an answer to what will happen in the 2023-2024 budget.”
Speaking of budget, Chairman Pennell said that since he was elected to the board in 2018, funding for fire departments has increased substantially.
“All commissioners agree that putting more money into our fire departments is a good thing. Fire departments are important for the safety of our citizens,” Pennell said. “This board wants to help and I’m glad that we’re having open conversations.”
He noted that revaluation takes effect with the budget year that begins on July 1, 2023, and fire tax rates will be evaluated to provide a balance of support for the fire departments while keeping the taxpayers in mind.
In the 2022-2023 fiscal year, all fire departments received a county appropriation of $63,000 to fund a full-time firefighter, with the exception of Ellendale and Hiddenite which received $123,000 each to fund two firefighters. Currently, the fire tax rates range from 4.3 to 7.5 cents per $100 valuation.
“If a training facility is a definite need, we should do it and at the right place. We’re in this together and we must figure out how to make it work,” said Chairman Pennell. “We just want to do it right so it will be utilized to its full potential.”
The next regular meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, March 6 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.