TODD-Limited funds are flowing once again to the Todd Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department.
That’s according to Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick who said Friday the money has been turned back on by Ashe and Watauga County leadership – at least in part – to help the struggling department become operational once again.
“The new leadership has gotten together with Watauga and Ashe County and we feel (Todd VFRD) has made sufficient progress that we’ll release part of the money,” Yearick said. “It wasn’t a total release, but enough to hopefully get them on the road to getting up and running. They’ve got insurance to buy, trucks and pumps to have inspected, old bills to pay. Hopefully this eases some of those worries.”
Yearick said, despite the recent turmoil regarding the department’s status, Todd VFRD was able to retain enough fire department members to begin the process of regaining operational status.
“That was looking like it was going to be a big hurdle,” Yearick said. “They had to be able to tell us that they would have a sufficient enough roster to make it work, and I think that’s no longer a question.”
Now, Yearick said he hopes the department will be able to begin serving its remote community – which straddles the border of Ashe and Watauga Counties – before the end of the 2017 calendar year.
“We’re looking forward to them coming back online and I know the community is, too,” Yearick said. “There’s been a lot voiced about the department by the community, but I don’t think the amount of community support for the firefighters was ever a question. The community may not have been very happy with some things, but they were happy with the firemen and first responders, and there is no doubt the fire department members are good at what they do. I think it’s going to work out very well with this new leadership.”
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 Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty 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.
Ashe and Watauga County leadership then listed a series of conditions that would need to be met for the department to re-open.
In August, former 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 in August, Welch deferred comment. Reports also found several unaccounted for transactions and revenues. Welch said those issues have been resolved but did not elaborate.
Former Todd Fire leaders – including former Board Chairman Andrew Jestes – then met with the public on Oct. 5, to answer questions. Jestes described the sequence of events leading up to the department’s shutdown. He attributed the department’s inability to make its insurance payments on Ashe County’s refusal to advance the department money it was entitled to.
Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick disputed that statement this week, saying Todd Fire and Rescue formerly lacked enough board members to ratify its 2017/2018 contract, a requirement that would have been necessary to receive county funds.
During a meeting at South Fork Baptist Church on Oct. 5, Todd community members revamped the department’s bylaws and expanded the board’s membership from seven seats to nine.
Seven days later, the community voted again to clear away the entirety of the department’s board of directors and install completely new leadership.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.