Our View: Citizen awareness, board transparency key for Newcastle

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Recent news of Newcastle firefighters moving back into their controversial station has sparked more questions than answers.
How can a $300 temporary fix be all that’s needed to allow use of a 90-year-old station that’s in a decrepit state?
It’s important at this time for residents of the Newcastle Fire Protection District to pay closer attention than ever to decisions made regarding their fire service.
For over a year Newcastle firefighters lived in a trailer parked outside their fire station because the station was deemed unsafe.
In an effort to fix the problem, a special election ballot measure in March of 2012 asked district residents to pay an additional $146.46 annual parcel tax to help fund a new fire station and to increase the pay of Newcastle firefighters who were making $8.50 an hour. The cost of a new station has ranged from $1.5 million to $4.5 million.
The measure passed, but soon after a group of residents rallied against it saying plans for the station were too grand. They were also upset that the campaign had said the fire station was condemned in ballot language when in fact it was not by county standards.
The opposing group was able to put a counter measure on the November ballot that asked to collect less tax money. The measure failed, but three incumbents from the fire board lost their bid for reelection to three challengers upset over the first ballot measure.
Soon after the new members were sworn in late last year, the board approved a $3,600 engineering study. Then, they approved $300 in repairs to the station. As a result, the county removed the yellow tag designation it had made before the November election and firefighters moved back in last week. A yellow tag designation meant firefighters could gather supplies but not occupy the building.
That leaves a big question: If it was that easy, why wasn’t it done before?
Residents who were angry over the tax passing the first time need to stay engaged as the new board moves forward.
Where will the tax money go? What is the true cost of bigger, permanent repairs to the station? Is that the route to take or does a new station need to be built, and where?
How long will a few long bolts really hold up the old station?
Those questions have been long standing. Recent movement with the temporary fix doesn’t mean residents should feel those questions have been answered.
As county building inspector Scot Andrews said, “We don’t really consider these repairs. This is just a temporary shoring to get ready for the repairs.”
The new board seems to be making steps in the right direction and is planning to start advertising for contractor bids after its meeting next month.
A message to them would be to keep up the transparency and take it a step further and reach out to the residents who are not attending meetings. Engage Newcastle fire residents on the future of the fire district because they will be needed for its success.