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La Crosse moves forward with new fire station

SoVaNow.com / April 14, 2021
The La Crosse Volunteer Fire Department is moving ahead with plans to build a new fire station.

The new facility will be located on Carolina Street across from the current station. The department already owns the land for the building.

During Monday night’s meeting of La Crosse Town Council, members agreed to a request by LVFD Fire Chief and council member Michael Clark to apply for a $1.4 million loan to cover construction costs for the new station.

Clark worried that any delay in building will drive up the cost of construction. According to local contractors, the price of building materials has risen between 20 and 30 percent over the past year. Talks on building a new fire station began over three years ago.

Construction will be financed with a 25-year loan that carries an interest rate of 2.5 percent for 10 years and 3.1 percent for the remaining 15 years.

Mayor Billy Gill asked members of Council three times if someone wanted to make a motion either in favor or against Clark’s request, before Council member Joseph Curtis spoke up saying he would support the motion.

Council member Joe Young offered a second. With Clark abstaining, the motion passed by a vote of 2-1. Council member Jeff Edmonds cast the lone vote in opposition.

Edmonds said he had no concern about the ability of the fire department to make the $77,000 annual payments, but he worried that the department would be unable to also pay for a new fire truck, which Clark said the department would need in the next four years.

The base price of a fire truck is $600,000, according to Clark, who added that as with past vehicle purchases, the LVFD intends to cover this expense by obtaining a grant.

“The support of the fire department is not an issue,” Edmonds said. “The flip side is that the [town’s] finances are the finances.” Edmonds heads the budget committee for La Crosse. In that capacity he keeps track of the town’s financial position relative to expected income and outlays.

Ahead of the vote, Clark told fellow Council members that the department is pre-qualified for the building loan based on its financial position and history. Firefighters have raised the funds to pay for all three additions to the 1950s-era fire station — one in 1958, another in the ‘60s and a third in the ‘70s. Members have already begun fundraising for a new building and to pay off their remaining debt on one firetruck.

Through the efforts of volunteers with the fire department, who have paid for additional and upgraded equipment, Clark said the Town’s ISO rating dropped from a 5 to a 4 in the past 10 years.

An ISO rating is given by the Insurance Services Office to fire departments and their surrounding communities. The ratings, which run from 1 to 10, calculate how well-equipped a fire department is to put out fires in the community. Lower scores are given to departments that are better equipped.

The ISO provides this score to homeowners’ insurance companies. As the ISO class improves, fire insurance rates for homeowners and businesses decrease.

Mayor Gill said after the last ISO rating change, his insurance premium dropped about $100.

LVFD Deputy Chief David Pendergrass said firefighters all supported the plan to construct a new fire station since their current facility is too small to house their equipment. He added that they were willing to “bust their butts” to raise monies needed to cover the loan payments and for other costs that would arise over time.

Members of the department in attendance at the meeting nodded their head in agreement when Pendergrass spoke of their willingness to raise funds.

The department has already paid over $50,000 for the preliminary design and permitting. They hope to break ground on the new building by July 1.

When completed, the new fire station will have four bays, a meeting room, kitchen, offices and a day room. Clark said it is “not extravagant. It is the bare minimum of what we need to do the job.”

The current fire station building, which also houses the police department, will be returned to the Town for its use once construction is completed later this year or in early 2022.

The LaCrosse Volunteer Department was founded in 1939 after the town installed a public water system. Its first fire truck was a 1933 Chevrolet, purchased from the Town of South Hill.

Over the past 82 years the department has purchased at least 15 fire trucks or support vehicles, turnout gear, air packs, thermal imaging cameras, an extraction tool, and a system to fill air tanks. They also paid to erect a second building to house two fire trucks in 2010 when the department outgrew its current facility.

In other business, Council agreed to reopen Town offices to the public starting April 19. Anyone entering the facility must wear a face mask. Town workers have cleaned the local playground and will be checking over the equipment ahead of reopening that area to the public as well.

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