Wake County's potential fire district mergers may help Knightdale

aspecht@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2013 

— As Wake County considers consolidating its fire departments to cut expenses, some Knightdale leaders say they would support a merger between the town’s fire department and the county-funded Eastern Wake Fire & Rescue.

Wake County’s fire district budget, which funds 13 not-for-profit rural departments and several municipal departments, faces a shortfall in the coming years. So the county is looking for ways to cut costs. Raising taxes to boost fire tax revenues is not an option, Joe Durham, deputy county manager, has said.

In February, Durham met with representatives from several Wake towns – including Knightdale – to gauge their interest in merging with county-run fire departments. After Durham’s meeting with Knightdale on Feb. 21, the town formed a committee to examine the pros and cons of merging with Eastern Wake Fire & Rescue.

Already, some in Knightdale are coming out in support of a merger, saying it would save the town money.

“At some point we’re going to have to build a station in the Hodge Road corridor, this (possible merger) would postpone our need to build that station,” said Tim Guffey, Knightdale’s fire chief.

Knightdale, in recent years, has considered building a fire station near the Knightdale Boulevard-Interstate 540 interchange – where residential development boomed in the last decade. Guffey and others have pointed out that the interchange is a high-traffic area prone to delaying emergency responders answering a call from, say, Hodge Road Elementary School, which is four miles away from the centrally-located fire station on Steeple Square Court.

Knightdale even made plans to build a second fire station, but scrapped them because the town couldn’t afford it.

“(A merger) would be a big benefit for us because we wouldn’t have to construct facilities on the south side of town,” Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen said.

It’s unclear how much Knightdale would save by merging with Eastern Wake Fire & Rescue. Killen estimated it would cost about $2 million to build a new station.

Jeff Eddins, a Knightdale town councilman who chairs the Public Safety committee, said Knightdale could use help on the western side of town – especially with massive growth expected to come on the east side of town after the 70-acre park on First Avenue is completed this summer. An 800-home subdivision is scheduled to begin construction in 2015.

“Soon, we’ll have to be focused out there,” Eddins said. Eddins, a banker, says he’ll support a merger “if the price is right.”

Eastern Wake Fire is “very professional, great to work with,” Eddins said, noting that the departments already help each other respond to structure fires. The committee exploring the cost of a merger has not set a deadline for producing a report.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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