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Fire station loan OK'd

South End Company to get $150,000 to fix leaking roof, replace HVAC system

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to loan South End Fire Company $150,000, in part to make long overdue maintenance repairs.

South End, the busiest fire and rescue station in the city, is housed in an aging building that has had a leaking roof and outdated heating and cooling system for more than two years, according to Chief William Moreland.

Although officials never spoke out loud about the possibility of closing down the station, which fields roughly 2,500 calls a year, they were unofficially trying to avoid that.

"That's a huge loss," Moreland said about that potential scenario. "It would have put an extreme burden on the other stations."

But thanks to a loan from the Winchester Fire and Rescue Department EMS Recovery Fund, the fire station will receive a new roof and HVAC system starting in the next couple of weeks, he said.

Moreland was the sole speaker during a public hearing on the issue at the council's regular meeting Tuesday night, when he repeatedly thanked the council members and residents.

"It's been a very difficult time for our company the past couple years going through this," he said. "Requesting this money is not what we wanted to do, but what we had to do. ... This is not the fix to all the problems, but this is a start."

The facility's problems started long before the economy went sour, but that's really what caught officials off-guard, according to Moreland. The fire company was anticipating updating the building and purchasing new equipment to provide training before a combination of loss of revenue and increased costs struck.

"All that was planned out before the economy really took a downturn," he said. "When that happened ... our plan was kind of shot ... and we were faced with trying to go into a road of survival with finances."

The company started losing roughly $50,000 to $80,000 in revenue yearly from the bingo operation, which brings in the majority of the total funding, Moreland said. Also, a local oil company that was donating oil to the fire company could no longer provide that service starting in December 2009 because of the economy, which caused the heating bill to rise from about $1,000 to $17,000 a year.

"That was in the middle of our budget year," he said.

The fire company will have to repay the loan starting in January 2013, Moreland said. He hopes to be able to pay it back ahead of the payment schedule, but he said the company needs help from local residents to make that happen.

He hopes more community members will come out to the twice-weekly Bingo event, held on Mondays and Fridays. The game starts at 7 p.m., but the doors open at 5 p.m. and dinner is available throughout the evening.

Moreland also noted that the fire company is in need of more volunteers. South End Fire Company, at 17 W. Monmouth St. and can be reached at 665-0007.

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