By Stan Welch
The Williamston Town Council held its monthly workshop session on Tuesday night, preparation for its monthly council meeting the following week. Under the guidance of the mayor, the Council previewed the issues to be discussed at the official council meeting so that all the members can be familiar with those issues when they come up in open session.
Tuesday night, however, was a bit different, as several members of the Williamston Fire Department (WFD) were on hand, to pitch their proposal to purchase a ladder truck; or an aerial, as they are known.
Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison explained that the proposal was based on both the need for such a unit, and the additional capacity to respond that it would provide, as well as the condition of one existing truck the department has on hand.
Engine Three, a pumper the department has had for over a decade, and which it bought used, has become a bright red and chrome money pit, according to Ellison. “We are constantly fixing things and if we weren’t lucky enough to have some firefighters who can also do a lot of these repairs, we couldn’t keep this unit on the road. It’s almost to the point that we need to send a mechanic on the truck every time it goes out.”
Ellison made it clear that the constant repair and maintenance costs have become a real burden for the department. But replacing the engine would cost at least four hundred thousand dollars for a decent used unit. Add the fact that the department lacks certain abilities due to the absence of an aerial, and an idea was born.
“We located four trucks, all used, that we felt might meet our needs. We narrowed it down to one really good looking possibility. Then, we drove to Evansville,Indiana and physically checked this unit out.” That unit is a Quint pump and aerial combination engine, with a seventy five foot ladder that will let the WFD better service the twenty four churches and nine apartment complexes in Williamston, as well as the mills and shopping centers. Currently, if an aerial were needed in Williamston to respond to a fire, it would have to come from either Honea Path or Piedmont.
According to Ellison and the firefighters who went along, the engine is in remarkable condition. The truck itself has less than seventeen thousand miles on it, and the ladder mechanism itself has only one hundred sixty three hours of use. The Evansville department, which has three such units, mainly to serve a massive Toyota plant in the area, is consolidating operations and finds itself with a wealth of riches.
“We negotiated a price of two hundred twenty five thousand dollars, which we feel is a tremendous bargain. New, this unit would be a million dollars minimum, and obviously out of our range. The Evansville folks also agreed to fully service the engine and to deliver it to us at no charge. Those two items amount to a savings of several thousand dollars. We also plan to pay off a smaller truck we have, freeing that budgeted money up to apply to the annual payment on this unit, as well as selling Engine Three and applying that money as well,” said Ellison.
In a workshop format, Council cannot entertain questions or conduct votes, but the council seemed to favor the proposal, and will once again entertain the proposal at next week’s meeting.
The Council then moved on to discuss several proposed amendments to existing ordinances, concerning the rental and use of the town hall facilities for gatherings. The gist of the amendment was to give the mayor the discretion to waive all or part of the rental fees for non-profit organizations, town employees, and public officials. A provision was also discussed to include the use of ten tables and eighty chairs as part of the basic rental agreement. Additional settings would cost extra.
An amendment concerning the ordinance about possession and consumption of alcohol at special events, such as the Spring Water Festival or other functions was also discussed and will be presented for first reading at the next meeting. A proposed ordinance to establish an economic development incentive program was also introduced. The ordinance would define the conditions to be met in order for public monies to be available to private enterprise. If adopted, the program would still have to be funded by a separate act; but as Mayor Durham said, “At least this would give us a means of providing those incentives if we choose to.”
A measure to formally accept ten thousand dollars in PARD grant money was also presented and appears slated for approval next Monday.
Mayor Durham then gave a brief presentation about his perception that the town needs to find ways to expand its recent fiscal progress beyond just public safety and public health to a higher level, where the quality of life in the town becomes essentially an economic development tool. “Most small towns diminish because they put most or all of their resources into the lower levels of the pyramid, if you will. We are working very hard to increase our investment in the upper levels of that pyramid,which is what makes a town grow. “
He will expand his presentation at next week’s meeting.