CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - After 67 years, a Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department could lose it’s funding from Mecklenburg County. That was a recommendation from the county’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency at last week’s Board of County Commissioner’s policy meeting.
They say these community fire departments are expensive to run and although no official decision has been made, the Cook’s Fire Department says they will do whatever they can to keep operating.
“It was a kick in the gut for all of us," said Tommy Towner, Chief of Cook’s Fire Department.
At the last county policy meeting, the Land Use and Environmental Services Agency presented a projected budget plan discussing community fire departments in the county. They went over the history of these departments, saying in the past they were given a flat fee from the county to help run the departments.
But in recent years, those budgets have expanded to meet needs in the community. The county has also started to pay minimum wage to these firefighters, who used to work completely on a volunteer basis, so they could be staffed full time.
The LUESA said the people living nearby Cook’s FD don’t generate enough tax revenue to keep the fire department running. Staff says it’s either they raise taxes or stop funding to the department.
“I want the community to know, I want all the members to know that were not going down without a fight," said Chief Towner. “We’ve been here for 67 years and we hope to continue to serve another 67 years and to continue to serve our community as best as we can.”
County Commissioners said nothing is official until they vote, something they say is a while down the road.
“It’s merely a recommendation. We asked for more community input, we asked for expert input. We even talked about re-energize the fire commission so we really want to hear from the community. We didn’t vote on anything, we just listened to the recommendations," said County Commissioner Elaine Powell.
People living nearby Mountain Island Lake are worried the community will see a drop in response time if there’s an emergency. Cook’s Fire department was critical in dozens of water rescues during the June 2019 flooding on Riverside Drive.
The plan recommended by LUESA would have the Charlotte Fire Department take over coverage of the area. Cook’s Fire Department and Robinson Fire Department were chosen to merge with CFD because there are already Charlotte Fire stations close by.
Again, there is not a vote scheduled, but if it does eventually pass, the county assures they’d make sure the Charlotte Fire Department could handle the area and there wouldn’t be a gap in funding.