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Fiery back-and-forth over Fire Station 1 starts off council meeting
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Fiery back-and-forth over Fire Station 1 starts off council meeting

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Statesville Fire Station 1 will be relocated after the city agreed to purchase land on Wilson Lee Boulevard for a new station.

Words were exchanged between a Statesville resident and a city council member early in Monday's meeting over the new location of Fire Station 1.

But City Manager Ron Smith stated during the meeting that the move was about the city's fire coverage as a whole, not for just one area.

"It provides the best coverage for the city. You don't build a fire station for one development," Smith said. "You put it in the best place for the best number of people."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Micah Phelps said he was speaking on behalf of people in the Larkin area of Statesville, saying they were promised the location of the fire station on Amity Hill Road.

"You want to cut a check to the Housing Authority, what about the people of Larkin? What about the firefighters back there?" Phelps said, referring to the city council's recent vote to work with the Statesville Housing Authority on a number of projects in exchange for the land the new Fire Station 1 will be located on. "Where's it at? Can you answer me that? Where's our firehouse at?"

Phelps stated he believed when the Larkin area agreed to be annexed by the city, that a firehouse near there was promised. Smith said in an email on Tuesday that he wasn't aware of any promise of a fire station in that area but said with Fire Station 1 moving from it's location on Meeting Street to Wilson Lee Boulevard, it will provide better coverage around the Larkin Golf Club and the areas around it.

Smith and the city council said the same as what they had previously over the last six months, stating that the city's fire coverage would be hindered by that location on Amity Hill Road, but that placing it on Wilson Lee Boulevard wouldn't create longer response times than the previous Amity Hill location that had been selected would.

Councilwoman Doris Allison said that even as she and Councilman Frederick Foster were debating with the council over the previous Amity Hill location, they didn't hear anyone from Larkin in regards to the council considering the move to Wilson Lee.

"We tried very hard, and we fought really hard to bring that together. We had no representation from Larkin," Allison said.

"It's here now," Phelps shot back.

"Well it's too late," Allison replied. 

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Then there was an exchange of words, with Phelps saying he would "fire" Allison, ending with Allison telling Phelps to "Get out."

"The situation right now is we're out here doing the best that we can, and the City of Statesville is not just about Larkin, it's about every individual," Allison said. 

Allison said on Tuesday she perceived Phelps' words and demeanor as "bullying," which is why she said she responded how she did.

Foster also spoke similarly to his acceptance of the move, as he too had once opposed it. During the meeting, Foster said he had met with Fire Chief Andy Weatherman to discuss the issue and was convinced the move made sense for the city as a whole.

"I know the people of Larkin are upset, but they will still get coverage, they will get better coverage, even though it isn't there on their front door of Amity Hill Road, it's in a good proximity," Foster said. "I've been called a traitor and sellout because I voted to put it on Wilson Lee Boulevard, but I don't want to put it in an area where it's going to cause problems for the city. I want it put in an area where it can work for everyone."

Councilman John Staford said that the Wilson Lee location was "perfect" for the city and said before Foster and Allison had joined the council, previous councils had the Amity Hill location described to them as "detrimental" to fire coverage.

Council approved beginning the process for the design and construction of a new Fire Station 1 building at the Wilson Lee location.

Scott Harrell, assistant city manager, brought forward the plan to use the "design-build method," which he said would be more cost-effective. As Harrell described it in his city council action request, the design and construction firm(s) are selected as a team in a single solicitation process, is widely used and generally result in a quicker and lower-cost process than the traditional design-bid-build method.

He said at this time, those design and construction firms would be submitting their qualifications at this phase, not submitting bids, but that part of the process would likely come around May and the council could vote then on approving a contract after its staff handles narrowing down the candidates. According to the city, the estimated project cost is $5,700,000.

However, Steve Johnson offered some pushback on the approval process mostly being handled by staff, as the councilman worried about handling it while balancing its other responsibilities. Johnson said he was in favor, but said he felt the department should have someone dedicated to the project. Smith said having a non-employee superintendent wasn't factored into the budget but could be done easily. 

The city council unanimously approved the "design-build" approach but spent more time discussing how it would be funded. Smith said the project could be covered by its Unassigned Fund Balance, which would not require any changes to the budget or taxes. He did however say, in doing so, it could limit options for other projects down the road. Smith said it would allow the city to take advantage of low interest rates.

Councilman C.O. "Jap" Johnson said he was against taking out a loan to help pay for Fire Station 1 because he felt if an emergency did arise later, the city could use its credit to cover it, the same credit that would be used to take out a loan now. Steve Johnson felt similarly and said the city would save $1.4 million in interest payments. 

Eventually, the council voted 5-3 to fund it out of the Unassigned Fund Balance. 

Follow Ben Gibson on Facebook and Twitter at @BenGibsonSRL

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