HUNTERSVILLE – Town board members will decide by their retreat in January whether to ask voters to approve bonds to build and equip a new police station.
If commissioners decide to go to the voters with a bond referendum, they also may ask voters to approve a second initiative: a new fire station to serve the southwestern part of the town.
At a workshop before the regular town board meeting Monday, Dec. 6, Police Chief Phil Potter and Fire Chief Larry Irvin talked about their top priorities for the coming years. And they both said: new buildings first.
Potter has longed championed the need for a new police station, saying he can’t squeeze another employee in the current headquarters, a block away from Town Hall. And when suspects and witnesses are brought into the overcrowded facilities, Potter says working conditions can become dangerous.
The town board has agreed the police department needs a new building but delayed the project again last year to avoid a tax increase. On Monday, Mayor Pro Tem Sarah McAulay asked Ferguson to return with several cost options: what the town could build for $5 million, $7.5 million and $10 million.
One of those options also will address another Potter priority: how the town will handle its police communications and dispatch in the future. The chief has previously proposed the town install its own dispatch system, rather than paying Cornelius to handle its communications through its 911 center.
Commissioners did not give any indication of how they are leaning on that extra expense.
Fire Chief Irvin told commissioners the town needs a southwest station, preferably in the area around Hambright and McCoy roads. Currently, the town contracts with Long Creek Fire Volunteer Department, which sits across the street from the Huntersville town limit, to provide first response to fires in that area.
The town also needs the station because of imminent changes in the fire service throughout the county, Irvin said.
Mallard Creek and Newell volunteer departments – two north Mecklenburg departments that border Huntersville and provide mutual assistance to the town – are closing June 30, 2011, Ferguson and Irvin told commissioners Monday night. The departments are closing because the City of Charlotte is gradually annexing their territories, reducing the departments’ ability to keep volunteers and support their operations, Ferguson said.
But the Charlotte Fire Department is asking the county for much more money to cover the unincorporated areas that remain, said Irvin, who attended a recent meeting with Assistant County Manager Bobby Shields. Facing more severe cuts in their upcoming budget, county officials are likely to end subsidies to volunteer fire departments and, instead, create a system of fire tax districts countywide.
Each of the county’s six towns would have its own fire tax for providing fire service in the town and its surrounding extra-territorial jurisdiction. Each town would recommend an appropriate tax rate for its district, but county commissioners would still have final approval, Ferguson said.
The police and fire chiefs also discussed other priorities, including:
• The need to replace or rebuild the town’s No. 2 station on Beatties Ford Road, which the town acquired after merging with the Gilead Fire & Rescue Department. The building is outdated but has no room to expand, Irving said. He favors building a new station at another site.
• Expanding Huntersville police services to the town’s extra-territorial jurisdiction beyond town limits. Huntersville police officers already drive through unincorporated areas of the county while responding to call in the Skybrook and Olmstead communities, which are part of the town.
Others said Huntersville can obviously provide better service, since Charlotte police officers often have to respond from Northlake Mall. But the county must be willing to cover the town’s costs to provide that extra service, everyone agreed. Expanding police coverage to areas outside the town limits also would require a change in state law, Potter said.