After 34 years, Hawkins to stop paying electric bill for Stanley Valley VFD

Jeff Bobo • Feb 21, 2019 at 8:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Stacy Vaughan said Wednesday the fire department will likely have to do without electricity through the end of the current fiscal year if the county stops paying the electric bill at its county-owned station. 

On Wednesday the County Commission’s Pubic Buildings Committee addressed several problems with the SVVFD’s 34-year-old lease for the fire hall, including language that has never been enforced requiring the department to pay utilities expenses.  

Vaughan wasn’t able to attend Wednesday’s committee meeting due to a work commitment, but he told the Times-News after the meeting that the SVVFD has no money in its 2018-19 budget to pay the electric bill.

Although it the bill averaged as high as $387 per month in 2014-15, by 2017-18 the monthly average had decreased to $183, and so far this fiscal year the monthly average is $165.

Vaughan said that when the county stops paying, the station will likely do without electricity, at least until its new budget cycle begins. He said the SVVFD has an $8,000 insurance bill coming due, and paying that is currently the top priority.

Several aspects of the county-owned SVVFD station were discussed by the County Commission's Public Buildings Committee Wednesday morning including the fire department's lease with the county, which hasn't changed or been formally renewed since it was signed in 1985.

There was also a $6,000 bathroom which is almost completed but without water or septic; the electric bill; and a suggestion to simply deed to the property over to the SVVFD.

The original section of that facility is a small community center which is used as a voting precinct during elections.

Who’ll pay the electric bill?

The lease, which was signed in 1985 by SVVFD co-founder and current Public Building Committee member Charlie Thacker, called for the department to pay its own utilities.

But, Hawkins County has paid that bill for the past 34 years, during the years that Thacker served as an officer in the department, and the years that fellow Commissioner Danny Alvis served as chief.

"We need to be treating them all the same," said committee chairman Rick Brewer. "We're not paying the light bill for Lakeview or Surgoinsville, or these other fire departments."

The county, which owns the Church Hill City Hall/Fire Station building, splits the cost of utilities there with the city, which owns the land.

Brewer added, "We're not getting any use out of the (SVVFD) building whatsoever. The community is allowed to use it, but it's up to the discretion of the fire department when they can use it. We have no say in that."

The committee voted 6-0 to send the SVVFD a letter stating that it will be responsible for the electric bill beginning with the April billing cycle.

The $6,000 bathroom

Two years ago the County Commission allocated $6,000 to pay for the materials to construct a bathroom in the faclity, and the SVVFD agreed to cover the labor expenses.

The bathroom was approved at the request of the Election Commission which noted that election workers who spend 12 hours at the Stanley Valley voting precinct on election days need reasonable restroom facilities.

Vaughan said construction of the restroom is complete except the commode has not been mounted because they afraid someone might try to use it before septic is installed.

Installation of the hot water heater, plumbing, sink, sheetrock, and flooring has all been completed, Vaughan said.

But, the SVVFD hasn't connected to the public water utility, nor has it installed a septic system.

Although the county property doesn't perk and isn't suitable for a septic system, Vaughan said he has spoken with a neighboring property owner about running a line under a road and use that property for a septic system.

But, Vaughan, a former county commissioner, said his board of directors has been concerned about the possibility of being evicted from the county building.

The SVVFD board won't approved any further expenditures on the facility until the board is sure the fire department will be allowed to stay there.

That bathroom construction has been point of contention between Vaughan and Commissioner Mike Herrell, who was in attendance Wednesday.

"There's still $6,000 that we're going to have to figure out where it's going to end up at," Herrell said. " ... There's $6,000 that's — wherever. But the bathroom, to my understanding, is still not in the fire hall."

The funds weren't paid directly to the fire department. The county was billed for materials by the supplier after they were purchased by the SVVFD.

Thacker said he believes the $6,000 should be deducted from the SVVFD's annual contribution from the county.

SVVFD's 34-year-old lease

Among the problems identified in the current lease is language which required the Election Commission to cover the cost of all maintenance in the original section of building where voting takes place.

The $1 annual SVVFD lease also stated that the lease should be renewed every five years, but Building Manager Alana Roberts noted that a formal renewal has never taken place.

Thacker expressed concern that because the lease hasn't been formally renewed every year, the county could face liability if an accident took place on the property.

"When I came here (in 1998) we started looking at different leases and the committees at that time didn't want to make a change," Roberts said. "They were still going to continue with that. Just leave it like it is. most of the time those leases were to the point that if you didn't want to make a change you just let that lease continue,and it was automatically renewed every period."

Give the building to the SVVFD?

Brewer noted that the county has no control over the facility except on election days, the commission might want to just give the building to the SVVFD.

Herrell expressed opposition to that idea.

"I don't think you should give them the building," Herrell said. "The reason why, it's the taxpayers building. If you give it to them and they decide they just want to move out, and then they just take the building and sell it."

Brewer: "There are things that can be put in there, if it ever ceases to be a fire department, it would revert back to the county. That's something we need to talk about later, I think."