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Citizen remarks unleash firestorm

SoVaNow.com / June 12, 2013
Several members of the Chase City Volunteer Fire Department attended the Chase City Council meeting on Monday night to support Fire Chief Winthy Hatcher as he responded to accusations made by the Rev. R. C. Hartley during a May 30 public hearing on the town budget.

However, before they could speak, the men were called away to an emergency — a tree was down at West B Street.

Hatcher, stepping away from his seat on Council, said, “Tonight I am speaking to you as Fire Chief Hatcher, not Councilman Hatcher. I will not mention the name of the person who said these things, and I understand discussing money during a budget hearing, but it is not a time for complaints about the fire chief or the department.”

Hatcher, who has been fire chief for 16 years, praised the work of the young men and women volunteers on the rescue squad and the fire department. He added, “What bothers me is that when a person is not doing his or her job and they’re let go or not let back on and then they accuse us of things... Do you honestly believe I would allow any of these young men and women to do things that were not legal or not safe? Instead of complaining why don’t you put money in the hat to allow us to buy a new truck when we need one.”

Hartley angered both current and past members of the fire department and rescue squad when he questioned whether the town properly monitored the fire department’s spending, particularly when it came to the $57,000 the town budgeted for the fire department. He encouraged the town to perform an audit of the department.

He also suggested that the department did not follow all necessary safety protocols, which could result in a workers compensation claim or other action against Chase City. Finally, Hartley questioned the need for the town to support the squad, which charges for its services. For both the current and upcoming fiscal year, the town donates $3,000 per year to the squad.

As soon as Hatcher finished his remarks, he too left the meeting to “be with his firefighters.” Saying, as he left, “We have done our best for the town and county. This is what we do.”

Several former and lifetime members of the Department currently serve on Council or were in the audience. They added their support for the fire department and rescue squad. Carlton Gurley, a life member, corrected Hartley’s allegation that the department does not properly train the volunteers. Speaking to Mayor Eddie Bratton, who served during part of Gurley’s active tenure with the department, he said, “You remember, I used to do the road safety training. Even now, drivers have to be recertified every three years.”

Marshall Whitaker, a 37-year veteran of the department, said, “We’re damn lucky to have the quality fire department this town has, especially for what it costs. Council member Brenda Hatcher, who is also a member of the auxiliary agreed and said, “People have argument, but you don’t bring them to a town budget meeting.”

Hartley was not present at the Council meeting, and therefore, could not respond.

In other business, Council approved, without comment or objection, a $2 million dollar budget for the town. This budget, according to town manager Ricky Reece, was “achieved with no increase in real estate, personal property or machinery and tools tax rates, or sewer or garbage rates.” However, because of increased water rates passed on by the Roanoke River Service Authority, those using town water will see a fifteen cent increase in their monthly minimum bills. The existing minimum bill, according to Reece, is $52.95, but it will climb to $53.10.

The budget also provides for a merit step increase, up to 5 percent, for town employees, depending on their annual evaluation.

Other key budget line items include a $6,000 donation to MacCallum More Museum and Gardens, $4,000 to be set aside for a Chase City Community Park, $5,000 to the Chase City Chamber of Commerce, $1,800 to fund the state-mandated Line of Duty Act for the police department and $15,500 for vehicle replacements in the Public Works Department.

In a separate action, Council members approved raises for themselves and the Mayor for the first time since 1975. Beginning July 1, Council members will be paid $1,000 per year while the Mayor’s annual compensation increases to $4,000.

A recent power failure in Chase City, gave the town a chance to see the benefits of upgrades made to their system by Dominion Virginia Power. The outage was caused by a failed insulator in the area of Jackson’s Service Station on North Main Street.

Bratton shared how the upgrades improved Dominion’s response time. “Mr. Harvanek [the town’s Dominion representative] called the Dominion Power control center in Richmond and, using the new equipment installed earlier this year, they were able to re-route the power connection for the majority of the town, enabling most of us to have the lights back on.” Bratton was certain that “area-wide outages and downtime should be greatly reduced in the future.”

During public comment, Carlos Davis, a reformed career criminal shared his story as “someone who took the wrong road.” He told how he wants “to make a difference,” assuring that Chase City’s youth “have a bright future” and do not follow in his footsteps. He was encouraged to contact Rev. Ricky Lee with the Bethlehem Baptist Church who is setting up a mentoring and sports program in Chase City.

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