ASHE COUNTY-The Ashe and Watauga County community will have the chance to voice their views on the future of the embattled Todd Volunteer Fire Department early next month.
That news comes from Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill who said last week the fire department will host a community meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 5, at South Fork Baptist Church. The church is located at 157 S Fork Church Rd in Todd.
Members of the Todd Fire Department reached out to Jefferson Post staff Saturday Sept. 23, to urge community members to attend the meeting.
The meeting marks the latest crossroads in a drama stretching back more than a year for the tiny fire department that operated in both Ashe and Watauga Counties before financial difficulties halted its operations earlier this summer.
How’d we get here?
The Todd Fire Department’s recent financial difficulties began to emerge last summer when the department held a sit-down with Yadkin Valley Bank executives in a successful attempt to stave off foreclosure proceedings after the bank filed a civil suit against the department in May 2016. The bank’s action was an attempt to collect on loans – that at the time exceeded $400,000 – Yadkin Bank said Todd Volunteer Fire & Rescue defaulted on.
In August, Todd Fire operations came to an abrupt halt after Gambill said the department’s insurance lapsed. That move necessitated that multiple area fire departments – including Creston, Fleetwood, Deep Gap and Meat Camp along with the Ashe County Rescue Squad – be placed on standby to pick up the slack in Todd’s district in the wake of the department’s problems.
County officials from both Ashe and Watauga Counties later met with Todd Fire leadership and outlined a series of steps the department must take to right its financial ship, including:
After a thorough discussion, county officials said the fire department’s board of directors needs to implement the following steps to ensure the department can return to operational status:
1. Sign and execute contract with Ashe County.
2. Verify volunteer firefighter roster.
3. Dialogue with First National Bank to restructure loans.
4. Reinstate property and liability and workers comp insurance.
5. Dual Signatures on checks
6. Update USDA on department status.
7. Establish new bank accounts.
8. Secure the fire station and equipment.
9. Review all training records.
10. Provide one years’ worth of bank statements.
11. Provide a list of all unpaid bills.
12. Todd Fire Department Board of Directors to meet with community to discuss current and future status of the department.
In August, Todd Fire Chief Chris Welch also resigned.
Previous reports detailing Todd’s financial status noted questionable practices, including the absence of W2’s and unreconciled bank accounts and the fire department’s board of directors’ approval to loan Welch $37,000 for the purpose of helping his personal business.
When asked the status of that loan and if he had made any payments on it as of late by Post reporters last month, Welch deferred comment. Reports also found several unaccounted for transactions and revenues. Welch said last month those issues have been resolved but did not elaborate.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.