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Rep. Clampitt urges Swain leaders to seek state funding

By Kristin Fox

Last spring, NC State Representative Mike Clampitt made a plea to the governments of Swain County to consider a consolidation of the two entities emergency services. The request met strong opposition from both boards expressed in a letter sent to Clampitt dismissing the consolidation idea.

At the January work session of the Swain County Board of Commissioners, Clampitt came before the board to express his concern with the letter which he actually referred to as a resolution. He stated he would also be making a similar visit to the Bryson City board.

Clampitt also urged commissioners to come up with any budget requests for the state. He said that he already had requests from Jackson and Transylvania counties and was on hold waiting for Swain County’s requests.

In May 2022, Clampitt sent an email to Bryson City Town Board and the Swain County Board of Commissioners, asking both boards to consider building a new joint emergency response facility. He proposed the facility could be used by both Bryson City and Swain County emergency personnel. He also suggested the facility could be used by other emergency services, such as the forest service or rescue squad when dealing with emergencies.

The proposed facility would include a decontamination area, offices, classrooms, emergency operations center, accommodations and a commercial kitchen capable of feeding not only firefighters but also incident command personnel. Clampitt estimated the cost for his proposal to be between $3-5 million and could be funded through a fire tax.

Clampitt scheduled a meeting in Swain County for July 23 and invited media, both boards and emergency services personnel to come together to discuss his proposal. However, no town or county officials showed up for the meeting which was only attended by several firefighters and rescue personnel.

Instead, the town and county government officials issued the following letter to Clampitt:

Dear Representative Clampitt,

This letter is in response to the meeting you have requested on July 23, 2022, regarding the consolidation of emergency services in Swain County. There have been town and county discussions about this proposed consolidation.

Currently the consolidation does not have support for the following reasons:

1) The Town of Bryson City recently purchased property and are pursuing their own fire station for the Bryson City jurisdiction.
2) There is concern that if services were consolidated, substations would still be necessary in order to give efficient and expedite service to the areas outside of Bryson City. This would still require equipment and manpower.
3) Another concern is currently each fire department is a separate organization. Volunteers from each may not be willing to serve out of their district and it may cause shortages of personnel.
4) Debt that is incurred by different departments now being consolidated into one, how will equipment and debt for equipment be utilized and accounted for?
5) Governmental structure of the organization. Currently the Town Board of Alderman is the Board of Directors for the Town Fire department how will this new entity be structured that would be cognizant of the different areas of the county while still giving the town the ability to govern its own department?

For these reasons the town and county feel that the meeting you have requested on July 23rd would be non-productive. When the Tennessee, Alarka, Tuckaseigee and Town of Bryson City fire districts present a plan to the town and county boards that they would like to pursue a consolidation then there will be a need to start the dialogue of a new fire department building.

We appreciate your willingness to get involved with this local issue and possibly in the future will need your assistance with securing buildings and equipment for fire and rescue organizations to meet the needs of our community.

Signed Ben Bushyhead, Chairman of Swain County Commissioners and Tom Sutton, Mayor Town of Bryson City.

Clampitt presented a packet to the commissioners, a packet he said he intended to present to the former sitting commissioners based on the request for the meeting that never materialized.

Going through this resolution from the town and the former commissioners, gentlemen, creates a real problem for me to be able to do anything for Swain County, it more or less says if we want your help we’ll ask you for it,” said Clampitt. This leads me to my next comment, if you have a request for the state budget or things that are over and above what is in your budget, please don’t do what the last sitting commissioners did, which was nothing.”

He went on to point out that the former commissioners did not ask for money for current county projects such as the recreation center, event center or refurbishment of the Governor’s Island Park beach.

“I took the lead on that, because I saw the need,” he added. “I am community oriented with all three of my counties, Swain, Jackson, and Transylvania. I am trying to pick up and fill the local gap where the local taxes aren’t there to be able to serve the citizens of our community.”

We need to sit down and talk about public safety in Swain County, he added We need to look at sustainable and futuristic needs in our county.”

“When the meeting came about, we discussed that we didn’t want to attend because we thought it needed to be a grass roots from the fire departments’ volunteers,” said County Manager Kevin King. “We felt like it needed to be community led not forced. These organizations have a lot of volunteers and until we have paid fire personnel we are not in charge of them. We support them, but we are not in charge of them.”

Chairman Kevin Seagle suggested commissioners brainstorm and come up with ideas for budget requestsfor the state. Commissioners plan to discuss these ideas for budget requests at tonight’s regular session meeting of the board January 17th at 5:30 p.m. at the Swain County Administration Building, 50 Main Street, Bryson City.

It is a different world in Raleigh than it was four years ago,” stated King. “Four years ago, there was no money. We have not made any budget requests to the state because they have always been broke, there has been no money.”

According to King, the board has only asked the state for help with the middle school project.

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