I was able to break away from work at the last second and attend the legislative committee meeting this afternoon at 3:00PM. The room was packed full. The majority of the people during the public comments time were against HB1110, unfortunately. I think that is due to the short notice. I know a lot of my neighbors would appreciate the peace and security that HB1110 would give us. The good news is the bill is still alive. Before I give my full report of the meeting, here is the Call to Action:
Please Contact Members of the House Finance Committee and politely express your support for HB1110. Please explain why it is important to us. Please read below for a list of concerns that people expressed about HB1110 that people expressed at the meeting today, along with my responses, in case that is helpful. (Update: At the very bottom of this page is a copy of the letter I sent the members of the House Finance Committee.)
The House Finance Committee is currently scheduled to meet Wednesday Dec. 4 at 9:30AM in room 544 of the Legislative Office Building (updated again to give time and location.) It would help for them to hear from us before then, this evening if possible!
You can find the list of the House Committee members on this page on the NC legislature website.
Here’s my more detailed report on the meeting:
People who spoke for the bill (according to my memory):
Representative Nelson Dollar (the sponsor of HB1110)
Donald Pierce – former chief of Fairview #2
David Handy (myself)
Chris Pierce – Fairview FD volunteer
People who spoke against:
The chair of the fire commission, chief of Apex FD
Another member of the fire comission
A Wake County manager
There were some more people, including legislators, that spoke for and against. I didn’t keep detailed notes but I did listen carefully.
The gist of the arguments for HB1110 were:
- The county tried to shut down Fairview Fire Station #2, a bad move that would have resulted in increased emergency response times for citizens of the Ten-Ten Fire District, and even loss of life in some cases.
- HB1110 would make the fire district autonomous and protect the fire district from further encroachment by the county.
- The citizens of Ten-Ten fire district deserve more say in what happens to them. The attempt to shut down their local fire station blindsided them and was sprung on them by surprise in an attempt to push it through without public comment. This bill would empower local citizens to make their own decisions on how their local fire tax dollars are spent.
The gist of the arguments against HB1110 were:
- “This is all happening so fast.” My response: Yeah, we understand. That’s how we felt the first two weeks in July as we were frantically scrambling to get the word out about the county’s effort to shut down our fire station. Yet I notice that our county fire commissioners were well represented at today’s meeting, and I even saw Fire Service Director Nick Campasano there as well. Opponents of HB1110 had as much notice as we did. But I do understand why legislators outside of Wake County would need some time to digest this.
- “The state legislator shouldn’t override locally elected leaders and county managers who understand the local situation better.” My response: Hello! Local citizen here! You can’t get any more “local” than my neighbors and I! These county managers you want to defer to tried to ram the station closure through without our input. Our county commissioners were just as much in the dark as we were. It is likely that the commissioners would have rubber-stamped the county staff decision if we citizens hadn’t noisily intervened. Although we appreciate what help we got from county commissioners, no one represents our own interests better than we do. HB1110 would give us more local say.
- “Wake County has commissioned a study. We shouldn’t interfere while that study is in progress.” My response: What’s to study? What part of NO do people not understand when it comes to shutting down our local fire station? Donald Pierce informed us that there have been several official studies done recently on the topic of which fire stations to close or consolidate. Those studies have recommended the closure of several fire stations, many of which remain open. None of those studies recommended closing Fairview Fire Station #2, yet that’s what they tried to do anyway. This current study is being conducted by the very same people who just recently tried to shut down our fire station. Those people have an agenda and we do not trust them to produce an unbiased recommendation.
- “We don’t want to have inequality. We don’t want some fire districts having better service than others.” My response: Then improve the other fire districts! And thanks for pointing out what we have been trying to say all along: Our fire district provides excellent service, consequently our fire station should never have been targeted for closure. That fact that it was so targeted indicates an internal power struggle that has nothing to do with providing better service to under-served areas.
- “If you allow Ten-Ten fire district to go independent, it will hurt funding for the other fire districts.” My response: How so? All we propose is to keep our fire tax money in our own district instead of giving it all to the county and having to beg to get it back. True, the county was taking a bit more than they were giving back. But there is no public disclosure of the basis on which that was done. There’s no evidence nor requirement that the money held back is given to “poor” districts. Everything is at the county’s sole discretion. We are not the richest community in the area nor the poorest. If you are concerned about funding equity there are more direct and transparent ways to address that than controlling every aspect of our existence as a fire district.
- “If you let Ten-Ten district go independent, other districts will want to do that too.” My response: I have no problem with that. Local participation is what “Democracy” is all about. The local empowerment would be amazing. You need to do a better job explaining what the county role is and why you think it needs to be the way it is now.
I was only given one minute to speak. I made these points (talking quickly):
- During our efforts to save our fire station this summer, we discovered that the Fire Commission and County Commissioners previously voted that the criteria for shutting down a fire station should be “no decrease in service quality.”
- At the August Fire Commission meeting I held a sign saying “Criteria: No Decrease in Service Quality.” Fire Services Director Campasano looked me and several hundred other citizens right in the eye and said that criteria no longer applies.
- That’s when I realized that the priorities of county staff and citizens are not in alignment. That’s when I realized that their concern is more the growing of municipalities and not as much the preservation of our emergency services. That’s when I realized we need to take more of our destiny into our own hands.
The end result was that HB1110 was referred to the Finance Committee for further discussion. That’s not as good of an outcome as some had hoped, but not as bad as some had feared. The bill is alive! And you can do something about it. Please see the Call to Action at the top of this page.
Here is the email I sent out tonight to each member of the House Finance Committee:
Subject: Please favorably consider HB1110
Dear Representative <last-name-here>:
I am citizen of Ten-Ten fire district who is directly affected by HB1110, and I’m writing to show my support. Recently county managers tried to close our local fire station against our will and without our knowledge. This would have harmed our emergency response times and resulted in loss of life for some people. Also the station is operating very efficiently, mostly by volunteers, so there was no reason to close it. Word leaked out and a huge upswelling of community support for the fire station caused them to slow down those plans, but we have no long-term assurances. The county has now commissioned yet another study, even though there have been several recent studies already that didn’t recommend closing the station. This latest study is being conducted by the same people who tried to ram through the station closure, so their results will likely be biased. HB1110 would give our community much needed peace of mind through more autonomy and free us from the threat of future closures driven by petty internal power power struggles. We wouldn’t be a financial burden to the county, and we would still cooperate with other fire districts. We would really appreciate your kind consideration of HB1110.
<my address here>