By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
There are some folks in Willard who think the community needs their own volunteer fire department. Community leader Richard Dallaire brought the issue to the fiscal court’s attention last month when he sought their support in establishing a new fire department.
One of the biggest issues, he noted, was that roads leading into Willard could be cut off by rising flood waters. If those waters got high enough, he said, it might become impossible for the surrounding community fire departments to respond in an emergency.
This was on top of issues during the previous year’s ice storms that blocked roads and made emergency response more difficult in every community.
But the court couldn’t just approve the request, they explained. Willard had to follow a process laid out by the state fire commission – a process that includes getting neighboring districts to cede territory they currently cover to the new department.
Unfortunately for the Willard organizers, however, neither of the two volunteer fire departments that currently cover portions of Willard were willing to give up any of their district that included Willard and the surrounding area.
“We will not relinquish out part of that district,” Hitchins fire chief Greg Shaffer told the court.
He added that his department and the Webbville Fire Department received a total of 14 calls from the Willard area last year, with his department covering eight of those and Webbville covering the other six.
The chief of the Webbville fire department kept his statements brief, but echoed Shaffer.
“I agree 100 percent with (Shaffer),” he said. “We won’t give up any of our district.”
County attorney Brian Bayes, who was tasked with following up on the process after the last meeting, said if the districts were unwilling to relinquish control of the portions of their districts that included Willard addresses the only way forward was for the fire commission to override it. The court, he said, did not have the jurisdiction to do so.
Olive Hill fire chief Jeremy Rodgers, who currently serves as the local fire commissioner, said before the state fire commission could take action to override the opposition of the Webbville and Hitchins departments they would need to receive, and then investigate, complaints and find them valid. Rodgers also noted that this request was coming at a time when more departments were trying to consolidate, rather than create new departments, because of the small number of fire fighters available in each community. He said that most of the fire districts in the county already relied heavily on mutual aid because it was difficult for many departments to muster a full crew, especially the smaller, non-municipal districts.
While Rodgers said he could also take up an investigation if the court requested it, neither Judge Executive Mike Malone nor any of the magistrates took the initiative to make such a motion.
“This issue is closed, as far as I’m concerned,” Malone said, unless the commission received a complaint that brought it back to the court.
In other fire department news Jason Gillum with the Norton Branch VFD asked for his department’s per call disbursement, based on the formula used in the previous year, which the court moved to grant.
In library news Grayson branch manager Mattie Newton addressed the court about the recent temporary closure of that branch, and plans to reopen (see Grayson library re-opens, in this edition), and asked the court to consider funding another position at the branch for her own safety and the safety of library patrons.
“These are my personal experience and convictions regarding the situation,” Newton told the court, noting they did not reflect the official stance of the library.
She noted that over the last year as the branch manager she had taken on multiple roles which are traditionally filled by several people in other libraries – more than seven additional roles on top of branch manager.
“That’s a total of seven different roles and at least five of them should be separate job positions entirely (in a typical library setting),” Newton said.
While she added that she knew this was a one person job when she accepted, and that she would be expected to fill all those roles, it doesn’t change the fact that, on most days, she’s the only employee in the building.
“For the entire year I’ve not voiced any complaints for the work that has been given to me,” she continued. “I know these roles are required for any library to operate and meet the needs of the public. Rather, I feel great pride in the work that myself and the rest of the library staff have achieved and put forth. I also feel inadequate, and that there is more work that could be done that is limited by lack of funding and resources that the library currently operates under.”
Despite that, she said, “I still show up for work and put forth my best effort.”
But recently, she explained, she had been made to feel unsafe in the building.
“On Saturday, September 3, however, for the first time since working for the library I was made to feel extremely unsafe in my work environment.”
Newton went on to explain how, after a large group of men entered the library together to use the computers and check out books, one of them lingered behind, making inappropriate statements and comments and asking Newton if she worked alone and how often. He also made inquiries about the work schedules of library volunteers and the schedules of an elderly patron and her grandchildren. This came at the same time, she noted, that the Grayson police department was advising businesses of suspicious activity from a man who was asking questions about female employees working alone. While someone has been arrested in connection with those other cases, Newton said, and the police investigations are ongoing, the man they arrested is not the same person she identified.
Now, she said, she was asking the court for assistance in making sure female employees, volunteers, and patrons of the library could feel safe when using the facility.
“No one should ever feel unsafe in their work environment,” Newton said, before asking the court to consider funding another position so no one ever had to work alone.
Library director Matt Parsons told the court that while they have worked out a short term solution, the long term need was still present. He said with an additional $20,000 he could fund another employee for the Grayson branch. While he’s working on grants and other funding sources to meet that need in the future, until that funding is secured he was asking the court for support.
But, he noted, he was also limited by the library’s interlocal agreement with the county and the cities of Grayson and Olive Hill. While Parsons said the library, county and cities might need to look at amending or changing that agreement in the future, Malone conceded that at present if they funded an extra employee for one branch, they’d have to fund them for both to remain equitable. He asked Parsons to take the issue up with the two municipalities as well, telling Parsons he would support the county funding half of the salary costs for an extra person at each branch, if the two cities would cover the other 25 percent each.
Malone said he would also look into having a panic button installed for the library that would alert police as well as triggering an external alarm.
Emergency management, 911, and ambulance
In department reports emergency management reported on recent training, as well as a call for assistance for a lost hiker at Grayson Lake. The hiker, who had made his way to the lake bank in an area with no roads or trails, was located, picked up via boat, and returned to his vehicle.
EM director Adam Stapleton also gave the E911 report for director Joe Lambert, who is out sick with a COVID diagnoses. Lambert reported on bids awarded for next gen E911 equipment, as well as quotes received for roof replacement on the 911 center. He also reported plans to solicit quotes on the replacement of outdated and damaged generators at each tower site and improved, real-time surveillance to cut down on vandalism and theft.
Ambulance director Rick Loperfido also reported on recent transport issues arising with Rowan County and St. Claire Medical Center which prompted a call to Malone from the Rowan County judge executive. Loperfido explained that, unlike the Rowan County ambulance service, which is funded fully by the fiscal court, the Carter County ambulance is paid for with a special taxing district that was created specifically to respond to 911 calls. While he said his crews were happy to pick-up released patients and bring them home if they were already transporting to St. Claire, they can’t leave the county without emergency coverage to provide non-emergency transportation.
In road department news department head Jason Carroll noted his crews were staying busy with mowing and pot-hole repairs, and that all tractors and equipment were currently in working order with none in the shop. He also reported on slip repairs along Jackson Road, stating they should be fixed in the next few days.
Carroll further noted that the state bridge inspector had been in the county, and had found issues with every bridge in the county – though none had been condemned. The issues range from missing weight limit signs to minor deck repairs.
In related road news, the county moved to proceed with plans to remove a portion of Vincent Road from the country road system. Though they had completed preliminary steps before, they never went forward with scheduling or advertising a public hearing. The court scheduled that hearing for 5 p.m. on October 10, prior to their next regular meeting. The court also moved to offer surplus road equipment that they planned to sell at auction to the counties impacted by recent flooding for $500 under their reserve price. If transported and sold at auction, the reserve price would allow the county to break even after paying for transport costs, including the salary and expenses for employees doing the transport. If sold locally the reserve priced would bring a profit, but Malone said the county did not want to profiteer from their neighbor’s needs.
The court moved to approve this motion, as well as a motion to surplus a roller and a chip spreader from the road department, to be sold on govdeals.com, and to solicit bids for a new excavator with a bucket and a mower attachment. The court also approved a motion for another round of cold paving, approving the purchase of another thousand tons to split between magisterial districts.
“The state won’t give us money to pave new roads,” Malone quipped. “But they will give us money to re-pave already paved roads.”
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