The Person County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution at its meeting Monday night to recognize the new Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors, authorize county staff and attorney to provide assistance to this new board during this transition and a contract amendment with the department to provide limited funding.
County Attorney Ron Aycock explained the newest happenings of the Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department decertification saga.
After John Link came to the commissioners meeting on Oct. 21 and requested that the board not make the proposed resolution, which was later tabled, Link was removed as president of the Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department board of directors and replaced by vice president Laurie Dunn. Louie Marin became vice president and Link remains a member of the board.
Vice Chair Ray Jeffers asked if any progress had been made on items required by the department’s contract with the county.
“Do we have anything coming from you all to explain an audit form or records to show where the county’s $123,871 that was distributed to you all last year has been spent?” Jeffers asked.
former chief James Royster said the previous board is working with an auditor in Zebulon who is still working on getting that information together, but had not gotten back to them. When asked, Royster could not provide the name of the auditor.
Jeffers then made a motion to approve the resolution to work with the new board under Dunn.
In the discussion that followed, Aycock explained that any disputes between the old and new board would not be under the authority of the commissioners, only which board the commissioners decide to recognize, contract with and provide funds to.
“How can we contract with an old board who has received over $100,000 of the county’s taxpayer money when we have no idea how they went and spent it?” Jeffers said. “And then the state comes into a meeting and tells us that they’re not even meeting the certifications to be a department. We created a fire tax to help the citizens by providing these departments more money to lower their ISO rating and here we have a department that is threatening to lose the rating that they have. So, I don’t know how we can contract or work with anybody from that old board. And per their own bylaws, they didn’t even have a board. The bylaws say they have to have 12 and the chief tells you they didn’t have a community meeting to change those bylaws, so where are those 12 people?”
Chairman David Newell Sr. asked that the board hammer out as many facts as they could.
In their discussion, the commissioners and attorney reiterated that the department is in breach of its contract with the county, but the contract is not void. If the contract is void, the department will lose the 9s rating immediately. Aycock explained that if the resolution is passed, the contract still exists and the department is still in breach of the contract, but the appeal process is still ongoing and the department will have a 9s rating until the appeal is heard.
If the matter goes to court, the county would need to recognize the board that prevails.
Dunn addresses the board
Dunn was asked to approach the board and she reiterated that the new board has been elected with the purpose of carrying out the wishes of the community expressed at the Oct. 3 when the previous board was voted out.
Newell asked if the department has missed any calls to which Dunn said she didn’t know.
“We have repeatedly asked to meet with the former board and they have consistently refused to meet with us,” Dunn said. “There has been no information sharing. I have heard tell of medical calls going unanswered and I am unaware of any fire calls.”
The commissioners unanimously approved Jeffers’ motion.
Dunn explained the current situation to The Courier-Times.
She said that the state has sent acknowledgments of the appeal to both boards.
“The state has replied that they will comply with the request for discovery in some documents and we’re waiting on the notification of a hearing date,” Dunn said.
She said that the new board’s appeal should be the one heard by the state as they are now the officially recognized board of the Woodsdale Volunteer Fire Department.
Dunn said she doesn’t know what to expect in regard to the potential of a court battle over the department.
“That station has been in a severe state of distress for a while – I just don’t know what to expect,” she said.
According to community member Jessica Aguilar, the department has made strides toward compliance with the Office of the State Fire Marshal regulations.
“There are now 19 community members on the roster and certified instructors are now on the roster so that we can bring all of our volunteers up to state standards and hopefully surpassing minimum standards to best practice as far as certifications go,” Aguilar said. “We have members now on the roster who are familiar with the firehouse reporting so that we can report all calls to the state and those will be weekly so we can track our responding. Responder certification files are now being maintained. Individual responders are pushing certification and recertification and we are hoping to host those in house now that we have that capability.”