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South Hill Council delays install of fitness gear for town firefighters / June 16, 2021

A request by members of the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department to install fitness equipment in an unused kitchen space was put on hold by South Hill Town Council Monday night at the recommendation of Council member Ben Taylor and Town Manager Kim Callis.

In a rambling explanation of why he felt it was necessary to delay a decision on the fire department’s request by a month or more, Taylor said, “My concern is that our fire department and rescue squads change, and they’re going to keep changing. We talked about a piece of equipment that’s a duplication that the rescue squad has as well as the fire department and I believe that will be in the upcoming budget in a year or two. I think we need to tread very carefully as we spend money.”

Taylor then called on the county to provide financial support for both the fire department and the rescue squad.

In a May 18 memo to Town Hall, Fire Chief Michael Vaughn asked Callis to approve the conversion of former kitchen space inside the fire department building but did not seek money since the department was already in possession of the equipment in question. Vaughan was merely seeking approval to install the equipment in the building, which is owned by the county, to “greatly improve firefighter health and safety” and “better align with current NFPA standards on Firefighter Fitness & Health.”

Speaking to Taylor’s call for Mecklenburg County to step up their support for the fire departments, Vaughan said “Mecklenburg County is very generous to the fire services as a whole. They don’t separate town versus county. They purchased all of our fit testing equipment. They maintain it and they pay for it. They provided us with all new SCBA’s, they are replacing all of our respiratory equipment, and they replaced all of the masks.

“They pay for ESO, EPA, our software, our data plans monthly, and our Worker’s Comp and rider insurance. There is a lot of money invested in fire services as a whole and that goes through the Mecklenburg County Fire Chief’s Association.”

Callis said he had a more practical reason for holding off on a decision. He wanted assurances that adding fitness equipment to the building would not damage its structural integrity. He was assured by Town Building Inspector David Hash at Monday night’s meeting that the building could carry the weight of the equipment.

Vaughan added his assurances: “We had the building inspector come in. We had permits pulled and multiple inspections have been performed. The room is finished. We took a lot of the weight out of that room when we removed the dishes, furniture, and appliances.”

Council member Lillie Feggins Boone also agreed to forego approval of the request, telling fellow members that as chair of the town’s fire committee, she had not had the opportunity to review the space to determine whether there were any structural or other issues associated with the plan.

Feggins Boone and Shep Moss and Delores Luster, also members of the fire committee, had been at a meeting at the fire house less than two months ago during which Vaughn discussed the former kitchen space and described the planned use for the site. He also pointed to the space, which was less than 50 feet from where the members of the fire committee were seated.

Joining Taylor and Feggins Boone in opposition to the request were Vice Mayor Mike Moody, Delores Luster, Alex Graham and Joseph Taylor. Only Moss and Gavin Honeycutt voted to allow the fire department volunteers to move forward with their proposed fitness room.

Moody said he would agree to the delay only on the condition that the fire committee would, within a week, inspect the site and return a recommendation to the full council for a vote.

Chris Hardee, who was present at Monday’s council meeting, posted the following message on social media Monday night: “The discussion between the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department and The Town of South Hill about the installation of gym equipment inside the fire station has gone on too long. This money was donated to use how the SHVFD saw fit and would cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing, while providing our local heroes a place to work out. Until the Town of South Hill will step up to help out our Volunteer Fire Department, Shaun Hardee and I will.

“If you are a member of the SHVFD, we want to pay your monthly fees to one of our local gyms until y’all are able to get your own equipment installed. If you do not have a gym membership yet and would like to, we will still cover your monthly fees. Our firefighters deserve this, and we want to do our part to help. Thank you!”

By 11:25 a.m. Tuesday, Town Clerk Anna Cratch sent out a notice announcing a public meeting of the fire committee. It is set for Monday, June 21 at 11 a.m. at the SHVFD fire station. The public is invited to attend the meeting.

Callis promised to arrange for an electronic vote on the recommendation of the fire committee no later than June 23.

» In other business, Lee Howell, who heads the Children’s Theatre of South Hill, shared her displeasure with remarks made to Council by former Mayor Earl Horne during the May meeting in which he claimed to have “helped” the Children’s Theatre. Howell said no such help had been forthcoming. She told Council that after her group was invited to a “photo op” that was submitted with grant applications to portray the diverse audience who would benefit from the theater, she and the Children’s Theatre were later “disinvited” from using the theatre.

She added that Horne, through then-executive director of the Colonial Theatre, Lisa Jordan, did later offer to allow Howell to lease the theater space for performances by the Children’s Theatre.

She said the cost — $5,000 — was more than her entire annual budget for the youth theater troupe.

» Council approved a request from Callis to use proceeds from an upcoming bond issuance to reimburse the town for project expenditures made beforehand to cover the cost of the projects.

The expenditures are related to improvements to the town’s water, sewer and public utilities equipment and facilities and the construction of a new public works building and are not expected to exceed $9,800,000.

Council voted to award a contract for the Northeast Sewer Improvement Project to Henderson, N.C.-based H.G. Reynolds Company, Inc.

Reynolds estimated the cost of the project at $5,544,736.37. The town had budget only $4 million for the work. CJ Dean, director of municipal services, said the balance of the money would come from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds the town has received. Dean also assured Council that he would try to negotiate with Reynolds to reduce the cost of the project.

» Moody asked for Council to set a limit for members of the public to comment during public hearing. Without referencing Horne, who spoke for over an hour during the May meeting of Council, Moody said it was not fair to make the public sit through a meeting that lasts until midnight.

Taylor asked Council to consider taking early action to prohibit the retail sale of marijuana products in the town limits and to ban its public use. No action was taken on either Moody’s or Taylor’s requests.

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