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Avery Firefighters’ Association: Ratings, Service For 11 of 13 Districts in Limbo With Unsigned County Contracts

July 25, 2013. Eleven of the 13 Avery County fire departments have yet to receive monthly operational funding from the Avery County Fire Commission because of signing a six-month contract instead of a one-year contract, which could leave local municipalities without legal firefighting service, according to Avery County Firefighters Association President Paul Buchanan.

Each year, all county fire departments appear before Avery County Fire Commission to turn in suggested budgets around Feb. 1. Usually, according to Buchanan, the fire commission reviews the budgets until mid-March and then turns over its recommendations to the Avery County Board of Commissioners. Once the commission and board of commissioners adjust the budget, the amended budget is presented “about one week before the fiscal year begins,” Buchanan said, leaving little time for the fire departments to review.

“We know the budget is set, but we also wish to voice our opinions,” Buchanan said, noting that one issue with the new budgets is that new fire trucks and facilities will now be titled to the fire commission as opposed to the individual departments — a decision made without a vote, according to Buchanan. “We’re already, by and large, running the fire departments free of charge with personnel, and now they want to take our equipment? We’re disgusted with that part of it.

“Over the last three years, our budgets have been cut to the bone,” Buchanan said. “There’s no way we can run on what they’re giving us.”

In response to the lack of communication surrounding the new budgets, 11 of 13 Avery fire departments decided to sign a six-month contract, as opposed to the one-year contract presented to them by the commission and board of commissioners. Two departments — Seven Devils and Banner Elk — signed one-year contracts.

The 11 departments (and chiefs) that signed six-month contracts are Beech Mountain (Bob Pudney), Avery County Ladder Company (Bob Garland), Crossnore (Dean Gibbs), Elk Park (Derick Jaynes), Fall Creek (Donivan Perry), Frank (Johnny Mathes), Green Valley (Kenny McFee), Linville Central (Bob Garland), Linville (Mark Taylor), Newland (Matt McClellan) and Avery County Fire Association (Buchanan).

According to Buchanan, no correspondence has taken place between the commission and the 11 fire departments that signed six-month contracts since the contracts have been turned in. Buchanan said the first operational fund checks from the commission and county should have arrived around July 15 and have not.

The fear, Buchanan said, is that the six-month contracts, if not signed by the commission and county, are not valid, meaning there is a chance that the North Carolina Fire Insurance Rating Bureau would deem the municipalities as having no fire services. If a municipality has no fire service, then fire insurance increases, and residents will be at higher risk and pay more annually.

“Does the county realize what’s at stake?” Buchanan said. 

Calling a local insurance company, they informed that most insurance company’s will not write a policy on a building located in a non rated area unless the building is at a cost of $100,000.00 or more.  Essentially a residence or business costing less than $100,000 will not have any insurance coverage.  A building at a cost of $100,000 in a class 7 ISO rating which most departments are would be $460.00 per year, in a class 10 that cost would be $695.00.  With a building at a cost of $300,000 in a class 7 would be $1061 per year and in a class 10 will be $1607. 

Release from Avery County Fire Association