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Supervisors agree to pause heated debate with town over fire truck

Jason Dunovant

Dec 21, 2023

ROCKY MOUNT — The Franklin County Board of Supervisors has paused discussions with the Rocky Mount Town Council over the funding of a new ladder truck for the town’s volunteer fire department. The decision follows months of increasingly bitter debate between the two governing bodies.

A vote on a new funding proposal between the county and the town was postponed by the Franklin County Board of Supervisors last month due to the absence of Boone District representative Ronnie Thompson. With everyone present at Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors decided the best course of action was to take breath and wait until the new year.

“What’s happened here is the politics has gotten plumb out of hand,” Thompson said. “We need to quit fussing and fighting and arguing and come together as a community to work together to resolve this.”

The debate is over a ladder truck ordered by Rocky Mount earlier this year for $2.3 million, scheduled to be paid upon delivery in 2025. The town held an emergency meeting at the time to order the truck due to the cost increasing to $3.5 million if it waited for the next round of trucks to be available.

When financed by the town over 20 years, the overall cost of the $2.3 million ladder truck is expected to increase to more than $4 million.

With the cost of the ladder truck and because the Rocky Mount Volunteer Fire Department runs more than 60% of its calls outside the town limits, the Rocky Mount Town Council decided to request additional funding from Franklin County. County staff say they currently allocate approximately $90,000 per year to the town’s volunteer fire department, more than any other fire department in the county.

The Rocky Mount Town Council initially made the request for additional funding in June in the amount of $200,000 annually for the next 20 years. In August, the Franklin County Supervisors offered to provide an additional $50,000 per year for the next 20 years. That offer was rejected by the town council.

A proposal last month by Blue Ridge District representative Tim Tatum would have the county provide an increasing amount of funding for the town’s new ladder truck over the next 20 years. It would start at $50,000 next fiscal year and slowly increasing annually until it would max out at $200,000 for the final five years. The total amount provided by the town would come out to $2.45 million.

Rocky Mount council members said last month they would be willing to accept the deal, but several supervisors seemed strongly against it, which led to a delay in voting to wait for Thompson. On Tuesday, he agreed with the majority of supervisors that the best course of action was to delay.

Gills Creek District representative Lorie Smith said the debate had taken a life of its own over social media. She urged supervisors to wait until next year to have a joint meeting between the two groups to “clean the slate” and end the fighting.

“There is a lot of consternation on this board as we sit here today because the relationship has gotten degraded and deteriorated which hurts me greatly,” Smith said. “We are better than that. We must be better than that.”

Tatum agreed the best decision was to wait to assure that both sides come to the table willing to come to an agreement that is best for residents of the town and the county. He also emphasized that town residents are still county residents as well that pay county taxes.

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