WEST JEFFERSON — On Monday, Sept. 13, the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen held its regularly scheduled meeting. Topics of discussion included the proposal of a county fire commission, sidewalk installation and the results of the High Country Council of Government parking study.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. at West Jefferson Town Hall. Present at the meeting were aldermen Stephen Shoemaker, John K. Reeves, Rusty Barr, Mayor Tom Hartman and alderwoman Crystal C. Miller. Alderman Calvin Green was not present.
A main topic of discussion during the evening was the proposal of a county fire commission which was headed by county commissioner Chuck Olive. The plan would be to initiate a 7-cent, flat tax rate for the county which would generate revenue for the needs of local fire departments, such as new gear, equipment and mechanical repairs for vehicles. As of now, each volunteer fire department works independently to garner equipment and make vehicle repairs.
“New River Fire Department, about two months ago were doing some community service by helping DOT wash gravel off the road and the pump in their truck quit. The electronics in turn, also quit. All the sudden New River Fire Department has a $80,000 bill just to refurbish an old, used truck,” Olive said during the meeting. “With this proposal, we would be able to take that revenue generated by the flat tax rate, so when something like this happens the fire commission would be able to write them a check.”
Olive also noted that the increase of new residents to Ashe County brings with it a higher call volume and added strains on local first responders, pointing out that the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office alone received more than 29,000 call for service last year. The establishment of a country fire commission, Olive argues, would help alleviate those stresses in the long run.
“The lost province isn’t lost anymore,” Olive said. “People are staying here and those numbers are going to continue to go up, it’s not going to change, it’s just going to get worse. And, what we need to do right now is start laying the ground work for our fire departments and do all we can to help them.”
According to Olive, the establishment of a fire commission has several other benefits, such as increased incentives for industry to move to the area, the addition of some paid firemen, and fire fighting certification courses for Ashe early college students looking to get into the professional.
“This is just an opportunity for us to prepare to the future. Do we want to start laying the groundwork now, or do we want to start trying to piecemeal it together at the last minute when we have to have it,” Olive concluded.
Alderman and former fireman John K. Reeves pointed out that when similar plans were proposed in the past that some local fire departments were against it due to the increase in taxes and having to answer to the fire commission instead of the town.
“Again, I think people are confused when they hear about a fire commission and the power that it wields, or in this case doesn’t wield,” Olive said. “All the fire commission is for is to take those funds and disperse them where they’re needed. That’s all.”
Currently, the idea of a fire commission is just in the discussion stages. In order for a fire commission to be established, all area fire departments must be on the same page.
Also during the meeting, the board of alderman unanimously approved the motion to build a sidewalk along North 6th Avenue between Badgers Funeral Home and the Tavern Restaurant as part of the town’s safety and beautification efforts. The cost of the new sidewalk is estimated to be around $10,000.
The meeting also provided the board of alderman with the opportunity to view the results of a parking study conducted by the High Country Council of Government. The study was conducted on two different days in July, a Wednesday and a Saturday. Results showed that though spots along Jefferson Avenue, parts of Main Street and Backstreet reached near capacity, parking lots such as the one at the end of East Main Street near the Ashe County Arts Council contained many additional spots.
In order to relieve the parking strain in areas such as Jefferson Avenue and Main Street it was suggested that more signage be put up to direct visitors to the parking areas, as well as to ask local merchants to use the town parking lots during the day.
Other items of business included a discussion of spending American Rescue Plan funds and police, water and maintenance reports.
For more information about the West Jefferson Board of Alderman call (336) 256-3551. West Jefferson Town Hall is located at 1st South Jefferson Avenue.