Richland Hills subdivision, partly in Franklin County, wishes for faster rescue services.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — For some, fire services are getting too close. For others, they are much too far away.
Dogged future neighbors of a proposed fire station on Jenkins Road made a last effort to convince town commissioners to eliminate funding for firefighting staff during a budget hearing Tuesday at town hall.
But during a general public comment period that came that same night, an HOA representative from Wake Forest’s Richland Hills subdivision begged for the new station, or any fire services that would bring rescue workers closer to their community.
“Our problem is, our emergency ambulance service comes primarily from Franklin County,” said McCoy Faulkner, HOA president and a former first responder himself. “We get passed around.”
Richland Hills straddles the county line, with many of its residents living in Franklin County but still residing in the Wake Forest town limits. The town serves the community in all the normal ways — residential garbage collection, for instance.
But EMS is based on county taxes, so the Wake EMS station 3.3 miles from the neighborhood in downtown Wake Forest doesn’t serve them.
“Wake Forest Fire Department has responded to medical emergencies, but most of time they don’t get dispatched. They always come when they’re called, but sometimes they’re not called,” said Faulkner.
They have had to wait up to 15 minutes for first responders, even when a woman’s baby was in distress, he said. Additionally, ambulance drivers sometimes appear to not know where to go when they enter the neighborhood.
“We sit on the northern fringe (of town). We often feel, I often feel, forgotten,” he said, adding praise for the planned fire station on Jenkins Road, if they get the call to come to Richland Hills. “This (fire) station would address the situation. A 10- to 15-minute wait time is way too long when we need service.”
Mayor Vivian Jones promised Faulkner and the five to six people who came with him that commissioners would take a look into the issue. That means town staff will consider the legalities and make a presentation to the board at an upcoming work session.
One suggestion Jones brainstormed Wednesday was for residents to call the Wake Forest Police dispatch directly, so they can alert Wake Forest Fire. She said she’ll check to make sure that’s a viable option.
The strongest opponents to the Jenkins Road station, however, once again spoke against the town raising taxes to man the station during the public hearing on the budget, which calls for a 1 penny tax hike this year and another penny next year.
Without funding for salaries, the station can’t open, Wake Forest Fire Chief Ron Early has said. Early, too, was present Tuesday to request the station to improve response times in north and west Wake Forest.
“The location is ill advised,” said Dennis Chapman, addressing the board as a taxpayer. He lives near the proposed site but owns property inside the town limits.
Opponents have long worried about the noise the edge-of-town station would bring to their neighborhoods, as well as the municipal limits encroaching on the more rural community.
The station will have “a direct impact on the health and safety of citizens,” Early countered.
Representing the Wake Forest Historical Museum and its nonprofit fundraising arm, the Wake Forest College Birthplace Society, Harry Mitchell also spoke during the hearing. He requested $4,000 to help fund exterior lighting for the museum, paid for this past year as a one-time-only supplement.
He also requested $2,000 from the town to help pay for a special Smithsonian Museum exhibit planned for 2015. Wake Forest was selected “after a fairly laborious process,” to receive the exhibit, he added.
Commissioners will discuss budget spending at a special work session June 10 at 5:30 p.m. The work sessions are open to the public, though comment is not permitted. The budget must be finalized by July.
No raise for manager
Following a closed session for Town Manager Mark Williams’ annual evaluation and to discuss the annual contract with Town Attorney Eric Vernon’s firm Wyrick Robbins, commissioners renewed the contract. No action was taken on Williams. Excepting one year during the worst of the recession, commissioners have given him a merit pay raise every year in recent memory for keeping the town financially in good shape. There was no criticism of Williams or comment of any kind after the closed session.
With little discussion and no dissent, commissioners approved all other items on the agenda. They included:
•A resolution authorizing issuing a $2.5 million revenue bond to pay for town electric substation improvements and replacing/upgrading lighting on North Main Street. Low bidder BB&T will finance the loan at a rate of 1.05 percent for a three-year term.
•Authorization of $25 million in parks and recreation, streets and sidewalk and greenway improvements bonds to be put to a vote by town residents during the fall elections. Tuesday’s action is the first official step.
•Approval of an installment purchase agreement to pay $505,000 for new vehicles for town staff. That includes a $112,000 knuckleboom hauler for environmental services (for debris pickup); $102,000 excavator; $19,000 human resources vehicle and $16,000 planning department vehicle, among other town trucks.
•A request to amend a conditional-use permit and master plan to allow 71 homes to be added to Stonegate at St. Andrews subdivision. More than twice the number of townhouses were originally planned.
•A rezoning request for 3.6 acres on Teletec Plaza to allow people to develop their property for business.
•Supplemental spending for various road and sidewalk projects around town.
•Setting a date for a public hearing to issue a Futures Fund grant to military tech contractor 3Phoenix. The action stems from discussions held during an April 15 closed hearing. The Futures Fund is designed to bring new jobs to town through payback grants and loans.