Belhaven votes to build emergency-services center

Published 5:30 am Wednesday, October 10, 2007

By Staff
Mayor’s request to delay the vote on matter rejected
Special to the Daily News
BELHAVEN — In a roomful of firefighters and fiscally concerned residents Monday night, the Belhaven Town Council on Monday approved a resolution that paves the way for the town to build its new Emergency Services Center.
By amending a 2004 letter of loan conditions to add $475,000 to the town’s existing $1.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development arm, the council kick-starts construction of the new center that would house the fire/EMS and police departments by directing Town Manager Tim Johnson to complete the lending process.
The $475,000 in additional money would cover the shortfall between the bid to build the center and funds budgeted for the project. The town will receive a $300,000 grant to help pay the project’s total cost of $2,685,645.
According to USDA representative Wayne Causey, the town will not begin making payments until a year after the center is completed.
Before voting on the resolution, the council heard a lengthy discussion on the project.
O’Neal said the town’s 100-year-old fire station should be refurbished and an addition for the police department added to the Municipal Building. He said the new ESC project could lead to a 42-percent property-tax increase.
Council member Charles Boyette said, “It’s the future of Belhaven that we need to consider here. To rebuild that old fire building would be putting trash on trash.”
Thirty-year fire department veteran Jessie Taylor said the building was built to serve as a generating plant, mainly to protect two generators from bad weather. He said the town paid $10,000 per vehicle to lower several trucks — fitting them with special shocks and struts — so they would fit through the bays. He said light bars are knocked off ambulances if the bay doors are not entirely raised.
Causey said, “I am charged to make sure that we still have the public consensus and the consensus of the panel. In April 2005 … USDA thought we had a unanimous consensus. I have to be assured the public is still behind the project.”
On Oct. 3, 2007, O’Neal sent a letter to Causey saying that people in Belhaven believed a grant would pay for the facility, but once they realized a loan would be needed, “support was abandoned.”
O’Neal asked the vote on the resolution be delayed until after the upcoming municipal elections.
Causey said, “We most definitely could delay. You have a general contractor that is very good, and his last bid extension is today. If you have to have another bid, the cost will go up.
The interest rate for the loan will be around 4.25 percent, and the term of the loan is 30 years.
Council member Cynthia Heath said, “This is too important to relegate to whoever sits here in 30 days. In 2005, we were primed to go.
Hudson Brothers Construction of Greenville, the company building Washington’s new fire/EMS building on West 15th Street, holds the bid for the center.
Johnson said, “I’ll make you a promise right now: We can build this building and we can do it without a tax increase.”