GARLAND — The town’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department is on the verge of eliminating services for the town — unless they get what they want.
Mayor Winifred Murphy and Garland Commissioners discussed the matter during a Tuesday meeting. On behalf of the department, Attorney H.W. “Sandy” Sanderson Jr. mailed a letter to Murphy requesting a new contract.
“The Fire Dept. would like to continue to serve the Town, but would like to do so with some modifications to the prior contract,” stated Sanderson, a representative of Holland, Poole, Holland & Sanderson, P.A., a law firm based out of Clinton. “The Fire Dept. needs updated equipment and financial help with matching grant funds to continue to provide the best service available to the Town.”
Firefighters are requesting $11,000 from the town for the 2016-17 budget period and $25,000 for future years.
Garland began a contract with the fire department in April 2009. A section of that contract states that it can be terminated by the town or the department, at the end of year, with a notice of 90 days.
“Please accept this letter as written confirmation of the Fire Dept.’s termination of the contract at the end of this fiscal year,” Sanderson wrote.
Town officials said they appreciate the work of the department. However, they said a $25,000 per year request is too much since there are other needs in town. Commissioners are currently planning for the 2017-18 fiscal year. In addition to the fire department, Murphy said other needs must be considered such as aging buildings, many miles of unpaved streets, disintegrating sidewalks and streets and other services for citizens.
“Fire protection is critical and necessary for our town and citizens,” Murphy said. “We appreciate and value our fire department and all fire personnel. The commissioners must review needs in all areas and prioritize based on what is wanted and desired or what is critically needed in serving our town.”
According to Murphy, the fire department was incorporated in 1956 and operated under the town’s authority for more than 50 years until a request was made to make it a nonprofit in 2008. At that point, all vehicles and equipment were transferred from the town to the new entity. Since 2009, the department operated as a nonprofit and made decisions. It continued to be housed in Garland’s town hall building until 2016, until it moved into a new location on West Second Street.
During last year’s budget process, the department requested more than $38,000 for services. The town offered $11,000 in its budget, which was an increase from the $5,000 offered previously. Financial assistance was also granted for utilities.
In 2016, the department requested a 10 cent tax per $100 valuation on personal and real estate property, which would generate $27,000. The request was turned down.
During the yearly request, it was also noted by Murphy and town leaders that the specific needs were not requested and that the town may be double-dipping by asking Sampson County officials for money too. Along with Garland residents, the department also serves surrounding areas. According to data from Sampson County Emergency Services, the department responded to 32 calls from January 2017 through March 22. Only five were within the town limits.
In 2016, the department responded to 193 calls. From that amount, 157 were outside the city limits. The remaining 36 (19 percent) were in Garland.
A legal meeting regarding the issue is being planned. Some of the officials expected to be in attendance include Board Attorney Micheal Porter, the department’s legal council and Sampson County’s attorney Joel Starling. Commissioners unanimously made a decision for this step during the meeting.
“We are exploring options with the assistance of our town attorney,” Murphy said.