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Wake fire station may get legislative reprieve after all

December 6, 2018
Angry neighbors will meet Thursday evening to talk about the possible closing of a rural fire station in southern Wake County.

A day after it appeared that a legislative proposal to protect a fire station in southern Wake County was dead, the House revived it Thursday morning and gave it preliminary approval.

House Bill 1110 targets Fairview Fire Station 2 on Ten-Ten Road, which was a candidate for closure earlier this year as part of a broader plan that included a new fire station nearby in Garner. Neighbors rallied for the 55-year-old station, and the Wake County Board of Commissioners backed off, promising a study instead of a more immediate decision.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, rolled out a bill this week during the lame-duck legislative session to remove the Fairview Rural Fire Protection District from Wake County’s jurisdiction and allow it to answer to its own board instead. Fire protection service taxes would stay the same, but they would benefit only the new department and its surrounding district instead of being shared countywide.

Local residents are concerned that emergency response times will go up if the fire station is closed, Dollar said.

But other Wake County lawmakers, as well as county officials and fire officials in the county, opposed the proposal, calling it a bad precedent that would lead to wealthier areas statewide wanted to separate themselves from county services.

The bill failed on the House floor Wednesday in a rare tie vote.

But a lawmaker who voted against it asked Thursday morning for reconsideration, and Dollar tacked on an amendment that would allow the Wake County Board of Commissioners to consider the new Fairview board’s funding recommendations but wouldn’t require the commissioners to include it in the annual county budget.

That change didn’t calm any fears among other Wake County lawmakers, however.

“It has already started the ball rolling because we’ve heard from other fire stations or fire departments who would like to do the same thing,” said Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake.

“We are opening up a can of worms,” said Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake. “Think about what will happen if you have every little entity trying to break off.”

When Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said the county wouldn’t take any action on the Fairview fire station for at least two and a half years, Dollar responded that was only because the new station in Garner hasn’t been built yet.

Some lawmakers questioned why the General Assembly was stepping into a local fight.

“If it’s the responsibility of the county to determine where these things go,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, “then I’m still scratching my head trying to understand why we are in the middle of this thing, trying to tell the county that we don’t like the decision that they made when we, as a General Assembly, gave the counties the authority to make these decisions.”

But others backed Dollar, saying the legislature sometimes needs to ensure local governments are responding to the needs of residents.

“It seems obvious to me that what they’re trying to do is be heavy-handed with this and not allow the citizens of one small community to have some say in what happens in their community,” said Rep. Scott Stone, R-Mecklenburg. “They’re paying taxes on something. They just want to get the services and have control over what they’re paying taxes for.”

“We do have the authority to protect our citizens when maybe another level of government is not doing their job,” noted Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick.

In the end, the House voted 54-41 in favor of the bill. A final vote is expected next week before the measure heads to the Senate.

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