ROGERSVILLE — Should it be a fire station, a community center, or both?
That question has created an impasse between Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee and the Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department regarding the renewal of the SVVFD’s lease for the use of its county-owned fire hall.
The non-fire hall portion of the facility located at 1405 Stanley Valley Road north of Surgoinsville has been utilized as a community center since the fire department was founded in 1985, and that was a condition of the original county lease.
Last year, however, the county commission voted to stop paying the electric bill for the facility after 34 years, which was costing a little more than $2,000 annually at the time the county disconnected in April 2019.
“We’re in the firefighting business”
SVVFD Chief Stacy Vaughan told the Times News last week his organization’s board of directors had determined that since the department is now paying the electric bill, it doesn’t have the resources or manpower to operate the community center aspect of the facility.
“If the county is wanting to put 100% of maintaining the building on the fire department, we would rather not dedicate our resources to operating a community center, unless it was in case of an emergency,” Vaughan said. “We’re in the firefighting business, and it’s hard enough to find volunteers to answer fire calls and run the duties of a fire department. Taking on the duties of operating a community center is really not within our scope of duties, we feel, and we would like to be relieved of that, and not have that.”
Vaughan said the SVVFD isn’t opposed to allowing the facility to remain a voting precinct as long as the organization is compensated at the same level as the other fire departments in Hawkins County that allow their buildings to be used as voting precincts.
“Vacate the premises”
On Jan. 28, Lee drafted a letter to Vaughan stating, “I feel strongly that this property also be used as a community center and made available to the citizens of Hawkins County. It is my understanding that you are against the premises being used by the citizens of Hawkins County. Unless we are able to come to an agreement, I believe it may be necessary for Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department to vacate the premises.”
During the county commission’s Feb. 18 Public Buildings Committee meeting, Lee told the panel he will not sign a lease with the SVVFD that doesn’t include a community center requirement.
Aside from removing the community center from the lease, the SVVFD wanted the term of the lease increased from five to 10 years.
The committee voted to approved the 10-year request, but didn’t remove the community center requirement.
“A battle going on between the mayor and Stacy”
Although the newly revised lease was approved unanimously, Commissioner Valerie Goins, who represents Stanley Valley, expressed concern about evicting the fire department. Vaughan wasn’t informed that the lease would be discussed at the Feb. 18 meeting and didn’t attend.
“Can we not get everyone in the same room and discuss this?” Goins asked. “My concern is, this is my fire department. This is the fire department that’s going to come to my house, neighbors’ houses and folks in that community. We’re paying our taxes and we’re hoping to have a fire department.”
Goins added, “It looks like there’s a battle going on between the mayor and Stacy. … It’s very worrisome to me because a lot of us depend on that fire department if we have a fire. I hope the problem isn’t personal grievance or anything like that.”
The original SVVFD lease with the county was for five years and expired in 1991, although fire and county officials had been under the impression it was a 99 year lease. Only last year was the lease examined and determined to be expired for nearly thee decades.
Vaughan told the Times News last week his board of directors has been in negotiations for a new turn-key fire station centralized to the SVVFD service area and rent free.
However, that would be less desirable than staying at the current location because it would void a recent ISO rating which was reduced from 9 to 6, which impacts reducing fire insurance premiums for local residents.