Marsha Alexander, chaplain of the Perryville VFD, told The Mirror that “The Perryville VFD is still actively serving the Perryville Community and surrounding areas, just as it has since 1985. However, we’ve been forced to move the equipment to temporary locations within the community.”
She said that Perryville Community Action Center owns the building at 9432 E. FM 852, Winnsboro, where the VFD’s equipment has been housed for almost 30 years.
She said that board members of that association, Bill Duffey and Cloddie Henson, presented a lease contract to the VFD on Feb. 6.
“The terms of the contract were unacceptable to the department, and upon the advice of a lawyer, the department decided not to sign the lease,” she said.
She said objectionable terms in the contract included:
• The Perryville VFD would be required to make a $1,000 deposit to the Perryville Community Action Center.
• Perryville VFD would be required to increase the amount of insurance on the building, which includes the bays for their four trucks and the community center, and also increase liability insurance.
• Perryville Community Action Center would be named payee on the insurance policy, while the VFD would pay the premiums.
Mrs. Alexander said the department could not afford the lease amount.
She said the VFD “offered to work with the board members to find an agreement acceptable to both parties. She said they were unwilling to remove the deposit and left the meeting with Henson telling them, “We’ll just have to go ahead and start the process,” which they took to mean they were being evicted.
“As a result, the trucks and equipment have been placed in temporary locations in the Perryville Community,” she said. “Our response time will not be adversely affected; in some cases, response times will be faster. Perryville VFD wants to assure the community that we are still responding to calls in Wood and Upshur Counties.”
She said the department currently has eight members.
Henson agreed with Mrs. Alexander on some of the details, but differed on others.
He said that the eight members were from one family, Mrs. Alexander’s, which had “taken over” the department, and that all the officers were from that family.
Henson said that at the time the facility was built, about 30 years ago, “some wanted a community center, some wanted a fire department, so we decided to build both.”
The four bays are split, with two on each side, and the VFD was allowed to use the community center as its meeting room.
Under the agreement they had before, the VFD was to take care of the property and utilities.
The facility, Henson said, was entirely funded by donations, with everything bought through the department.
The 3-member community center board had voting privileges in the fire department’s meetings, “but some never showed up during their terms on the board.”
He said they had a right to participate in the VFD, “but most didn’t.”
He said the three members from the board were to be “watchdogs.”
“The fire department began not liking us,” Henson said.
He said that the VFD, at a meeting in early November, eliminated major portions of its constitution and by-laws, including having three associate members who preferably would not be firefighters.
They also took out provisions for having the department share expenses, maintenance and general well-being of the building and property, as well as a provision for an annual report, including providing an annual financial report.
Henson said that the VFD did not give an annual financial report to the center board last November.
“They distanced themselves from the community,” he said.
“We (the Community Action Center) had to revise our by-laws (because the VFD had revised its) on Jan. 4,” he said. “We have paperwork backing up everything we did.”
At that meeting, which he guessed was attended by more than 150, a vote was taken on amendments to the center by-laws.
The ballot stated, “The trustees elected by the Community shall have direct access to the Community Center.
“They will be responsible for:
1. Scheduling activities at the Community Center
2. Setting and collecting rental and/or usage fees
3. Managing rental contracts
4. Maintaining a bank account for PCAC funds
5. Overseeing the maintenance and upkeep.
6. Host annual Community meeting
7. Present annual PCAC financial report.”
The votes were collected and counted by Upshur County Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer and John Shirley, commissioner of the precinct which contains the Wood County part of Perryville.
The measure passed 88 to 25. (Some were not eligible to vote, because they lived outside the 5-mile radius that is considered the Perryville Community, Henson said.
Henson said that he and Duffey went to the VFD’s Feb. 6 meeting and presented the lease contract, which he said had been drawn up by a Gilmer attorney.
They also told them that they planned to change the locks, and asked that the department either disable its alarm system or give them the code.
The department asked to study it for a week he said. At a special meeting Feb. 13, the VFD rejected it.
Henson said there was no rental fee, the VFD would be expected to pay all utilities, perform all maintenance and repair to keep the facilities in good condition, and provide insurance, and maintain insurance coverage.
They balked at the deposit, he said. “There was no threat of eviction. Ask them to show you the eviction notice.”
He said that before it would come to that, there would have been another community meeting.
“It probably would have ended up with them evicted,” he said.
“The only difference is the $1,000 deposit,” he said, “and if you look at the property, you can see they left more $1,000 in damage when they vacated.”
He said that starting Feb. 14 and through that weekend, the VFD removed the trucks and all the department’s equipment and property.
Now some of the equipment is stored in a rental facility or at residences, and the trucks are parked in firefighters yards.
That includes one engine, one tanker and two booster trucks.
Henson said he is concerned because to be considered a fire department, a department has to have a heated station house to house trucks and equipment, and hold meetings and training.
He said that he is concerned that if the department loses its certification, the insurance for every property owner in the area served by Perryville VFD would go up.
“And I don’t want my insurance to go up, said Henson, who has been a volunteer fireman since 1970.
“I think they want to have a new fire station,” he said. “The current one was built with contributions. If they build a new one, it will be with tax dollars.”
Mrs. Alexander told The Mirror the department is disturbed by the controversy.
“All we want to do is fight fires,” she said.
“We had a good thing for 30 years,” said Duffey.