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Fire board acts amid heated audience

Newcastle emergency meeting called to address deadline inspection notice from county
By: Amber Marra Journal Staff Writer
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The small fire protection district in Newcastle will seek the consultation of a licensed engineer in regard to the structural issues of its deteriorating fire department building. The Newcastle Fire Protection District board of directors made its decision without voting Monday night in front of an audience of at least 40 people. The board made its decision to hire a licensed engineer during an emergency meeting Monday night called specifically to address a final notice sent to the district by the Placer County Community Development and Resource Agency. The notice requires the district to obtain the services of a licensed engineer to conduct a structural analysis of the 90-year-old Newcastle Firehouse within 14 days of the letter dated Sept. 5. Yvonne Lewis, chairwoman of the board of directors, asked early on in the meeting whether or not it would be “prudent to spend taxpayers’ dollars to shore up this building for a short while longer,” but a majority of the meeting was spent hearing from residents venting frustrations about the board’s actions regarding the firehouse. No one from the Placer County Community Development and Resource Agency attended Monday’s meeting. Board members said Chief Building Official Tim Wegner, who sent the final notice, was out of town that day. The notion of closure hovered over Monday’s meeting because if the district does not obtain a structural analysis within 14 days, the firehouse would be under restricted use — meaning firefighters could only enter the building briefly to access its contents, according to the final notice. “It sounds like (Tim Wegner) wants to help us,” said Bill Calkins, secretary to the board. “He knows the predicament we’re in, he’s acting on complaints and there is only so much we can do. Do we want to shut the firehouse down and not service anyone for awhile? I don’t know what the complaints are geared towards, but we’re doing all we can to get the firehouse going.” Lewis read portions of minutes recorded from previous meetings when the state of the firehouse building was discussed. “An engineer in 2005 just to walk in the door was $40,000, not to do the repairs, just to walk in the door,” Lewis said. She came under fire during the public comment portion of the evening when several residents voiced displeasure that Measure B was passed earlier this year under the guise that the firehouse building was condemned. Measure B passed during a special election in March by 68 percent. It includes an annual $146.46 parcel tax based on the square footage of a property owner’s structures. The annual tax can also increase up to 3 percent each year. The funds gathered from Measure B were promoted to pay for a new fire station in Newcastle and wages and benefits for the firefighters. Members of the public are not permitted in the building and firefighters are not allowed to sleep there at night, but Wegner recently made it clear that it is not condemned. The ballot for the March 6 election reads that Measure B would be used “to replace the old, condemned fire station.” “It was brought to my attention that I voted on a building that was condemned. I would have voted for (Measure B) anyway, but one of you up there said you were completely comfortable making the statement that it was condemned, so basically you told me you’re completely comfortable lying,” said Heather Waterbury-Pier, a Newcastle resident. “Telling a little white lie versus a great big lie, it doesn’t matter, I will be looking closer at decisions made by this board from here on out.” Lewis said she was comfortable using the word “condemned” because the building was unsafe and is “a danger for our firefighters to be in.” She indicated during the meeting that she did not intend to mislead anyone. Board Member Robert Stearns read the definition of “condemned” for the audience and said no member of the board ever meant to deceive anyone. “We need to do something about that station. It’s unfit for our firefighters, unfit for you the public to come in,” Stearns said. Members of the Reform Measure B Group were in attendance at Monday’s meeting along with two of the three candidates running against Lewis, Stearns and fellow incumbent David Poore. The two candidates, Jonita “Joni” Elder and Dave Ward both spoke multiple times during the meeting. “It’s really a no-brainer. You’ve got to get those guys out of that building. I know it, you know it, it has to happen,” Ward said. “Let’s go ahead and see what we can do about getting an engineer in there to look at it.” Ward also said it’s important to reform Measure B by voting for Measure K, which will be on the November ballot, because of the amount Measure B impacts senior citizens who are on social security. If passed, Measure K will allow for the first three years of the $146.46 parcel tax so the new fire station can be built or the current structure can be remodeled. After the three years the tax would be lowered to $30 per parcel to pay for maintenance of the building. Donald West, of Newcastle, said the board needs to consider people who can’t afford to pay the additional taxes. “I think the people here representing this group, we’re not here to condemn you, we’re here to help you run a better fire district,” West said. After awhile, Newcastle Elementary School District Superintendent Kathleen Daugherty stood and recommended the board form a committee to form a plan regarding the firehouse building. The board agreed to form the committee based on the superintendent’s recommendation during public comment. The committee will consist of two residents, a firefighter, battalion chief and Poore. The Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors will meet again on Thursday at Newcastle Elementary at 6:30 p.m. Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.