ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission will consider approval of a 99 year lease for the Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department to stay at its current county-owned station.
Under the proposed lease, the SVVFD will begin paying the electric bill for the building and will have authority over how and if the community center is open to the public, while the Election Commission will continue to use the facility as a voting precinct.
The lease was discussed extensively during Wednesday’s meeting of the commission’s Public Buildings Committee, but there was no final recommendation.
Instead, Commissioner Keith Gibson was asked to work with Fire Chief Stacey Vaughan and county Facilities Manager Sarah Davis to come up with the final lease proposal.
That proposal will then go to County Attorney Jim Phillips for review before it is submitted to the full commission for final approval.
Last month, the Buildings Committee was informed that the SVVFD’s lease for the building on Stanley Valley Road had never formally been renewed by the county commission.
The lease, which was originally signed in 1985, stated that it was to be renewed every five years.
That original lease also stated the the SVVFD would pay the electric bill for the building, but for some unknown reason, the county has always paid that bill.
The electric bill averaged as high as $387 per month in 2014-15, by 2017-18 it had decreased to $183, and so far this fiscal year the monthly average is $165.
The original lease also stated that the county would pay for building improvements and maintenance, although Vaughan noted the the fire department has paid for work needed to the building over the years including multiple flooring replacements, multiple repairs to the ceiling, new soffit and guttering, and light fixture replacement.
The SVVFD has also provided labor while the county provided materials for projects such as roof repair, and they split the cost of replacing the heat pump.
Vaughan told the committee he wouldn’t have invested fire department money into the building if he had known there was a possibility the SVVFD could be evicted every five years.
“According to the lease ... it says the county is responsible for all these charges,” Vaughan told the committee. “I feel like we use it, and the community uses that building more than what you as county officials use that building for. So we didn’t have a problem with paying our share.”
The fire department has managed the community center and allowed citizens to use it for various functions, It has also installed a computer station with Internet access for public use.
Vaughan said the fire department managed the community center because the county paid the electric bill, but if the SVVFD is going to pay the bill, he said the agency should be allowed to manage the community center at its discretion.
“We have a hard enough time running the fire department,” Vaughan said. “We’re not in the community center business. ... If you all want to take over the community center part, and foot all the bills for that, we will put a separate meter in and just control our bay area and stay in the bays.”
Committee Chairman Rick Brewer said he had no objection to the 99 year lease as long as the building could be used as a voting precinct.
“The fire department would feel more safe in spending its donated funds, its county contribution, on a building that they knew they would have,” Vaughan said. “We’re a little leery about spending our money if we don’t know in five years we might have to go somewhere else. It’s hard enough as it is for us to get a dollar to operate. That being said, there would be no problem keeping it open at no charge for the elections.”