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Newcastle Firehouse to be inspected next week

Candidate Ward calls for Lewis’ resignation
By: Amber Marra Journal Staff Writer
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The deteriorating Newcastle firehouse will be inspected by a licensed engineer next Thursday in response to a letter from Placer County requiring the small district to do so last week. David Poore, vice chairman of the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors, reported to the board and an audience of more than 30 at Newcastle Elementary about the upcoming inspection during a meeting Thursday night. Poore said Norman Scheel, of Norman Scheel Structural Engineers in Fair Oaks, will tour the 90-year-old firehouse on Thursday for a $500 fee. Poore said Scheel will tour the building and evaluate its construction with a committee appointed at Monday’s emergency meeting. Members of the public are still not permitted to enter the Newcastle fire department building due to code violations. “This will not be for a full report. It’s going to give us an idea if the building is really worth spending a great deal of money to repair,” Poore said. Thursday’s inspection stems from a final notice sent to the district by the Placer County Community Development and Resource Agency last week. The notice requires the district to obtain the services of a licensed engineer to analyze the building within 14 days of the letter dated Sept. 5. If the firehouse is not inspected by an engineer within that 14-day period, it will be placed under restricted use, which would only allow firefighters the opportunity to enter the building to access its contents, according to the final notice. Bob Stearns, a board member, reported on Monday that he has been working with a local business to see if firefighters could temporarily be housed there, but he would not name the business. “Nothing is concrete, but it’s a start,” Stearns said. Controversy erupted over the use of the word “condemned” on the ballot to pass Measure B arose once again on Thursday. Measure B, which was passed during a special election in March by 68 percent, includes an annual $146.46 parcel tax based on the square footage of a property owner’s structure. The annual tax can increase up to 3 percent each year. Tim Wegner, chief building official with Placer County, confirmed recently that the fire station has never been condemned. Yvonne Lewis, chairperson of the board of directors, asked the audience on Thursday if most of them would have attending meetings if it had not been for the use of the word “condemned” on the ballot or otherwise to describe the condition of the fire house. She was met with a resounding “yes” from the crowd. “During the last 20 years, reports from the different boards have stated that the building is in disrepair, falling down, crumbling, instead of condemned,” Lewis said. “During the last 20 years the fire board has used all of these words and more and yet only when the fire board used the word ‘condemned’ did anyone pay attention.” Some members of the audience were irked by Lewis’ challenge that only those concerned by the use of the word “condemned” would attend a meeting. “I don’t think very many people are here because of the condemned fire house issue. We’re concerned about the amount of money being spent and if it is being spent well,” said John Downs, of Newcastle. “You have to look at it from the standpoint of the taxpayers who are being hit at every level.” At one point, Dave Ward, who is running for one of the three spots on the board of directors in the upcoming election, stood and asked for Lewis’ immediate resignation from the board. Ward also criticized Stearns and Poore. “You have embarrassed yourself and this district and are not fit to serve on this board,” Ward said. Board members did not respond to these statements because they were made during the public comment portion of the meeting, prohibiting them from doing so under the Brown Act. Ward attended among residents who are part of the Reform Measure B Group. The group supports Measure K, which would allow for the first three years of the $146.46 parcel tax so the new fire station can either be built or the current structure can be remodeled. After three years the tax would be lowered to $30 per parcel to pay for maintenance of the building. Amid those sharp opinions, comments and questions at the meeting Thursday night, the board also passed a resolution that finalizes a health benefits plan for its fulltime firefighters using Measure B funds. The district will now provide the single Kaiser Plan 20 for each full-time employee at $23,568 annually, or $1,964 per month for medical insurance. A United Healthcare plan is included for all fulltime staff at $537.60, or $44.80 per month. Accidental death and dismemberment insurance is also provided for fulltime staff at $864 annually, or $72 per month. Dental insurance is provided with $3,683.52 annually, or $306.96 per month. The fire protection district will not contribute to premium costs beyond $7,287.84, according to the resolution. Wage increases were also approved by the board at a recent meeting. Michael Leydon, a member of the Newcastle Elementary School District Board of Trustees, spoke in favor of the fire district board and its actions. “You represent me as a taxpayer in Newcastle in the fire protection district and I want to let you know you’re doing exactly what I want this board to do. I very much appreciate your efforts and I appreciate that you have finally managed to give healthcare benefits to our firefighters for the first time in the history of the Newcastle Fire Protection District,” Leydon said. “I want to let you know there are many voices in this community and many of them match mine and I appreciate your service, I appreciate your dedication and I appreciate your vision.” A town hall meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9 in the Newcastle Elementary School gym so those in favor of Measure B and those in favor of Measure K can discuss the pros and cons of each. It will also give the three incumbents of the fire board and three challenging candidates the chance to state their positions. The Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors will meet again on Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Newcastle Elementary School. Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com . Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.