Hearing turns to fire merger

Idea would save Carrboro money

Staff WriterFebruary 22, 2006 

The time is right to talk about possibly merging the town's fire department with Chapel Hill's department, Mayor Mark Chilton said Tuesday at a Board of Aldermen public hearing on the coming fiscal year's budget.

Rodney Murray is retiring from the fire chief position, effective March 1, and has been on medical leave for a heart attack since November.

Chilton has said that if a merger occurs, there may not be a need to hire a new chief or even to build a new fire station -- both saving the town money. He suggested that the town staff prepare a very brief memo detailing the potential savings as well as potential problems of combining the two towns' fire services.

Alderman Joal Broun wants more than just a brief memo. "I think we do the citizens a disservice if we don't look at it closely," she said.

Alderman Dan Coleman asked whether merging the fire departments would put the process of hiring a new fire chief on hold. Deputy Fire Chief Travis Crabtree is acting as interim chief.

"Do we seriously want to take a look at ways to reduce the tax rate in Carrboro or not?" Chilton asked.

"If it holds a significant amount of promise financially, then I think we need to pursue it," he continued. "We need to quickly come to the conclusion if this is something we want to pursue or not."

Walking, chewing gum

Alderman John Herrera was optimistic that the town doesn't have to give up one for the other -- that a new fire chief can still be hired while the board simultaneously looks at the pros of combining fire services with Chapel Hill.

"I think the question is, 'Can we chew gum and walk at the same time?' " he said. "And I think we can do both.

"It's our duty to protect the citizens of Carrboro, and I think we can do savings at the same time," Herrera said. "Let's walk and chew gum at the same time."

Broun remained reluctant to move quickly, while Alderman Jacquie Gist was for exploring the possibility if it would save the town money.

But she agreed that the board still needed more facts.

Chilton suggested that if town staff find no potential, "then we just drop it."

In the end, the aldermen voted to let the staff look at the potential and report back to them.

Staff writer Meiling Arounnarath can be reached at 932-2004 or meiling .arounnarath@newsobserver.com.

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