COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Current and former volunteers of Nakina Volunteer Fire and Rescue have been feuding with each other for months about what's best for the department.
The disagreement boiled long enough to make its way before the Columbus County Board of Commissioners Monday night, with both sides represented.
John Ward, chairman of the organization's Board of Directors, said Wednesday there is concern about the department closing its doors.
"We think we can handle the problem ourselves," he said.
But both sides of this dispute have hired outside attorneys. Since this flare-up first began, the board of directors have kicked out four members of the volunteer squad, including the Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief.
Former Assistant Chief Billy O'Brien said Wednesday that the volunteers took a vote to remove the current board members months ago. Since then, they have elected a new board, but the old board is not going anywhere.
Ward said the vote to remove he and his fellow board members happened at an illegal meeting without the majority of volunteers involved in the vote.
O'Brien said the volunteers wanted to make changes to the department that board members did not agree with, like a new security system.
Ward explained that decision to buy a $6,000 security system requested by volunteers was tabled because there was not enough money budgeted for it.
A new awning for the fire station and a clearing of land next to it are two examples that O'Brien points to as purchases that were made without any volunteer input. To that, Ward said the projects were handled with the help of previous fire chiefs and budgeted in earlier years.
The current board and former volunteers have said the other side is in the wrong, so they're keeping a distance from each other at the suggestion of their attorneys.
"They're running business because they will not leave," said O'Brien."And we don't want to go there and cause a commotion."
The two groups shared their sides in front of commissioners Monday night. Ward and other board members refused to support a solution crafted by the former volunteers that would create a joint-board and hire a CPA to handle the bank accounts.
The current board rejected the plan because it cost too much money, according to Ward. He said spending thousands of dollars for it was not worth it.
The 35 – 40 volunteers continue to operate Nakina Fire and Rescue but the mailbox has been temporarily cut-off by the U.S. Postal Service and the organization's bank account is frozen. Board members opened a new one, according to Ward.
The fire insurance rating is Nakina is a 9, the lowest possible for an area with an actual department. Both sides are concerned that losing the department will drop the rating to a 10, which would increase insurance rates by hundreds of dollars.
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