MINT HILL – Mint Hill leaders have begun the process of bringing the fire department under the town’s umbrella.
Dale Dalton told fellow commissioners Dec. 13 that the Mint Hill Fire Department’s board has decided to turn the department over to the town. The department is a combination of paid and volunteer personnel.
The department provides fire protection and EMS services to the town and surrounding areas through contracts with Mint Hill and Mecklenburg County. It covers approximately 40 square miles and 30,000 residents.
Jerry Mullis, chairman of the fire department’s board of directors, said his group voted to begin discussions with the town about giving it fire operations as early as July 1, 2019.
“The growth in the fire district continues to grow and with this, the need to expand the fire and rescue services beyond what a volunteer department can effectively expect to maintain,” Mullis said. “The increasing number of fire and rescue calls produce increased cost to the department. Future needs of new breathing apparatus, radios, fire-fighting equipment and vehicles will not be funded enough to keep up with the demand. The fire and rescue protection for the fire district would continue as it has since the 1952 organization of the department with a high standard of protection for all residents.”
Town Manager Brian Welch said he expects the transition to be complete for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Mint Hill currently funds 24 full-time employees of the fire department and other costs, such as uniforms and training and one new piece of equipment every five years. The town currently budgets $2.4 million to the Mint Hill Fire Department and $865,000 for EMS, but all of the money for EMS services is reimbursed back to the town from billing. Welch said the move to bring the fire department under the town’s control will have no effect on the citizens of Mint Hill.
“There will probably be a dozen or so meetings between myself, Chief (David) Leath and obviously some people from their board of directors,” Welch said. “Practically speaking, the average citizen won’t know the difference. It’s more operational, administrative.”
The move, at least in the near term, will also have no affect with the town’s relationship with the Idlewild Volunteer Fire Department, which covers part of Mint Hill. The town budgeted $319,500 this fiscal year to help Idlewild VFD with its operations.
N.C. 51 widening
Welch also said the coming year will see the town engage with the N.C. Department of Transportation on the state’s plans to widen N.C. 51.
While construction will not begin for another four years, Welch said the town will he heavily involved with NCDOT in the proposed widening of N.C. 51 in Mint Hill and Matthews. The project is a NCDOT State Transportation Improvement Project and will widen N.C. 51-Matthews-Mint Hill Road from two lanes to four lanes. The highway will include a median down the center of the road with cut-throughs at intersections and other key locations. There is also a potential multi-use path along the southern side of the road.
The widening will be from the intersection of N.C. 51 and Lawyers Road to the intersection of N.C. 51 and Matthews Township Parkway in Matthews. The new roundabout at Idlewild Road and N.C. 51 was designed and built to accommodate the widening of the highway. Preliminary planning work for the project began in 2018 and right-ofway acquisition is scheduled for 2021 through 2022. The project is fully funded, designed and managed by NCDOT. Welch said the town will work closely with NCDOT to ensure its interests are addressed.
“The widening of 51 is coming, but that means we are now talking about design and the impact that it will have on roads that intersect with 51,” Welch said. “There will be a lot of meetings with DOT folks about the impact that project will have. We are also putting an eye towards what our next set of sidewalk projects will be.”
Back in November, voters in Mint Hill rejected two bond issues, one was a public facilities bond that would have renovated Bain Academy and the second was a parks and recreation bond that would have funded two projects, including a proposed 2,500-seat baseball stadium. Welch said the board has had no formal discussions on either issue since the election.
“It was disappointing that the bonds didn’t pass because I think all three of those projects would have been good for the town for economic development and good for our children in town,” Welch said. “But there have been no formal discussions on potential next steps. Some folks are still in shock to some degree.”