Fire Department Requests Help
Not the first on the schedule, but generating the hottest discussion of the night was Centreville’s Volunteer Fire Department, as Chief Mickey Barton appeared before the Council to request help purchasing much needed new sets of turnout gear. Turnout gear is the equipment the firefighters actually wear that protect them in a fire: helmet, coat, bibs, boots, gloves, etc. This highly specialized equipment typically lasts many years, and is very expensive to replace. The price of each set is $2,100. The department needs three new sets, totaling $6,300, according to Chief Barton.
With 13 volunteer firefighters, the department has only six usable sets of turnout gear currently, plus three more sets that are too burned and “holy” to be safe to wear into a fire.
The fire department’s operating funds come completely from car tag sales, totaling about $20,000 per year. At the moment, the department account sits at $3,800 which must last to pay bills through the end of July, before more funds are received. Chief Barton asked the City to assist with purchasing the new turnout gear because their funding doesn’t allow room for such a purchase.
After agreeing that the department needs the new gear, and agreeing to help purchase it, the council set into discussion among themselves and the Chief of how to handle the money. Mayor Terry Morton confirmed that the 1-cent sales tax fund has the money available, which could be transferred to the General Fund account to make the purchase.
Councilman Matthew Thomas proposed that the department use the rest of their $3,800, and the City make up the balance ($2,500), then “help them with expenses as needed” until they get more money. This idea was rejected after some discussion of fire department cash flow. Councilman Thomas then proposed buying one set of gear now, then the other two over the coming months. Various ideas were presented and discussed of how best to pay for the gear, most of which seemed guided toward waiting as long as possible to give out the cash.
Chief Barton stated that the supplier they use has been working with them for many years and gives them special discounted prices, but also has to purchase the items when they order them, which would cause that company to be out of pocket waiting on the City to pay if a long payment setup was used. Thomas stated, “I just don’t know if we’re exhausting any other fund this month by paying $6,300 all at once for this. … I’m hoping that maybe we can pay for one now, then use Net 30 terms to pay off the rest [later].”
Chief Barton rebutted the flinch at the expense, saying, “I know I’ve put it off about coming here, but to be honest with you, the guys’ safety is more important than anything else.” To which everyone agreed.
Mayor Morton commented amidst the discussion, “Chief Barton pointed out that this is a priority, which I understand. I mean, you don’t ever know, we might have a fire right now.”
“That’s why I was asking how many good working sets you’ve got,” Thomas said, “if you’ve got six now…”
“How many are you taking into a fire?” Councilwoman Diane Epperson asked.
“On average, four, five, six … it just depends,” the Chief replied, “we’ve got to have some inside and some outside.”
“You don’t know what kind of fire you’ve got,” Mayor Morton added.
“That’s right,” Chief Barton responded, “and if it’s daytime, we’re all out of town working. If it’s at night, some of us are working other jobs.” The implication being that they wouldn’t know who would be available with what operational gear at any given time, thus needing as many firefighters as possible to have functional and safe equipment.
Everyone agreed on two things: the department needs the three more sets (for a total of nine) of turnout gear, stretching the City’s funds to reduce large outlays of expenses at a time is a good thing.
The motion passed to order the turnout gear, and the method of paying would be stretched however possible, likely within 30 days.
On the topic of reducing Fire Department expenses to help their funding last, Councilman Don Mack asked the Chief about their winter expenses associated with keeping the trucks heated while garaged. According to Chief Barton, national regulations state that the trucks (and thus the entire building) must be kept at a minimum of 55 degrees, so that the diesel engines are ready to run at all times. The natural gas heating with less than efficient seals in the building creates a high price of operations, but the modifications to the building that could improve this aren’t something the department can afford.
I asked Chief Barton after the meeting about the department’s funding. “We’re 100% volunteer. We get the money from the tags, and we get whatever people donate – which usually isn’t much. So, we don’t have a lot of money to work with. But we do what we can.”
During the meeting, the Chief also mentioned the looming need to replace their Engine Number 1 … a 1982 year model truck. This is a very large expense, and will have to be funded by the City.
Centreville Police have received and been using their two new Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicles. “These are very much appreciated,” Chief Rodney Smith said in his report to the Council.
The two Tahoes will soon be sent for striping, and have already had their radios installed. Both the striping work and the radio installations are being paid for by the officers themselves.
The operational rundown:
- 91 calls
- 120 stops
- 17 arrests (down 6 from last month)
- 158 citations and warning given out
Centreville Police have been operating one man short since the previous Chief’s retirement, and currently have a part time position open. “It’s hard to find anyone who wants to do it nowadays,” the Chief said. He’s currently in a scheduling bind with officers requesting vacation time off over the next few months. The question came to the council of should they approve overtime for officers, or bring in part time officers from other departments.
“Three officers have over 250 hours of comp time built up that we can’t even afford for them to take,” the Chief commented as he requested the council to approve additional shifts and overtime pay.
Discussion continued from previous meetings on selling off old police vehicles. Currently there are offers extended for the three available Dodge Chargers, which the City seems likely to accept. They will also be surplussing a Chevy Tahoe that “blows out oil” and a Ford Crown Victoria.
To Tower or Not To Tower
In March 2019 Josh Lambert, President of Alabama Lightwave, applied to the Centreville Zoning Board for a Zoning Variance to allow him to build a Communications Tower on a lot next door to his residence on Aldine Street, just off of Walnut Street. After the Zoning Board approved the Variance Request it went to the City Council for Final Approval in early April. Centreville previously approved the construction of a cellular communications tower for Verizon located within 2000 ft. of Lambert’s residence, near Calvary Baptist Church in 2016.
Lambert told The Bibb Voice that his proposed Communications Tower could be a slimmer design, such as a Rohn Tower – the same type used for HAM radio, and the same type as installed at City Hall already. He said that he already had approval from the FAA to build as high as 165 ft but his final engineering plan could call for a shorter design when complete. The tower would house a transmitter for wireless internet, giving subscribers within several miles radius high-speed wireless broadband internet using FCC approved wireless technology.
On the subject of safety, Mr. Lambert offered this World Health Organization article on Electromagnetic Fields as a reference to the technology: https://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html
Opposition to the tower was raised by a local citizen who appeared at the April 2 Council meeting claiming to represent everyone who signed a petition living on Walnut Street, Aldine, and the surrounding area – all supposedly were opposed to the construction of Lambert’s tower. According to Lambert, Councilman Don Mack and Mayor Morton approached Lambert and suggested that he consider relocating the tower to land owned by the City as a compromise, and if he would do so the city would work with him to make it work out.
Lambert agreed to consider the compromise but explained that he had to first determine if the FAA would approve the construction of a tower on the proposed alternative sites and that might take 60-90 days for an approval or rejection process. There were also viability concerns with other locations such as access to utilities as well as customers. While he would wait for the FAA and feasibility studies, he asked that the Council table their vote on the zoning variance. Lambert stated that it was his understanding that there would be no Council vote while the zoning variance application was tabled until he returned with an answer from the FAA and feasibility results.
Tuesday night, however, without Mr. Lambert present or given prior notice, the Council voted. Councilman Don Mack made the motion to vote on the tabled item. Matthew Thomas seconded the motion. “I thought he would be coming back to update us,” Diane Epperson said.
Mayor Morton commented, “I haven’t heard anything.”
The vote hastily taken, the zoning board request was denied. There will be no tower on Walnut Street. At least for now. It previously appeared that most Council members were in support of the new broadband tower. Kenny Hicks did not raise his hand to vote against the tower, and when asked, Calvin Elliott says he did not, though there seems to be some confusion as to how the official vote went. Official Meeting Minutes are not yet prepared and City Hall could not give an answer to the official tally as of Thursday afternoon, June 6.
I asked Mr. Lambert for comment shortly after the meeting. “I didn’t know they would be voting. It was tabled… I can’t exactly hurry the F.A.A. along. … I don’t know what happened here.”
County Co-operative Extension Needs You
Matthew Hartzell spoke to the Council about new programs with the County Co-op, including a survey currently underway “open to anyone” to gather more information about what people would like to see done in the county.
“We’re looking for everyone’s feedback and ideas,” Mr. Hartzell said.
He asked the Council members to go online and participate, as well as to encourage others to do so. For more information, check out this Bibb Voice article: Make Your Voice Heard, Connect and Learn More About Extension
Concluding in Private
After the brief discussion and vote on the tower, Councilman Thomas requested an Executive Session (closed door meeting of required persons only) to discuss a personnel issue. Immediately upon concluding the session they adjourned with no further topics.