Town hall set for Knotts Island

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Heidi White

Bob White.jpg
Bobby Hanig.jpg
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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

CURRITUCK — Hoping to better explain the county’s goals for fire protection on Knotts Island, Currituck commissioners will hold a town hall meeting for residents of the remote community early next week. 

The meeting, set for Tuesday at 7 p.m., will be held in the cafeteria at Knotts Island Elementary School.

Heidi White, who asked for such a meeting during a Board of Commissioners meeting earlier this week, said she’s thrilled by the decision. 

"I think that's absolutely awesome," White said when reached about the planned meeting on Thursday. "I am beside myself. We all need to be together” about fire protection on Knotts Island.

White said there's a massive effort on Facebook right now to get the word out to Knotts Island residents about Monday’s meeting.

The meeting is the result of a decision by the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department a month ago to suspend services. Officials with the VFD said they were at an impasse with the county over reaching agreement on a contract extension.

Currituck Fire-EMS responded by stationing two paid firefighters and two paid emergency medical technicians full time at the Knotts Island Fire Station. All four personnel are cross-trained as firefighters and EMTs.

Com­mis­sioners voted unan­i­mously Mon­day to have Cur­rituck Fire-EMS con­tinue to re­spond to fire and emer­gency calls on Knotts Is­land un­til a de­ci­sion is reached on a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion for pro­vid­ing fire pro­tec­tion.

White is ad­vo­cat­ing the county go to a paid fire­fight­ing ser­vice on Knotts Is­land.

Asked what Knotts Island residents want to find out at the upcoming meeting, White said how much a full-time department is going cost them and whether residents on Knotts Island or residents countywide will be footing the bill.

She said "absolutely" Knotts Island residents' emotions are quite high right now, and that’s general concern about the community having prompt and adequate fire protection.

Commissioner Bob White, no relation to Heidi, said Thursday he's the one called for next week’s meeting.

White, whose district includes Knotts Island, said in his discussions with Knotts Island residents, he found out they still weren't quite understanding what's going on with their fire protection.

"So, I thought it would be better if we just came over to the island and had a meeting with them — and just explain where we're at now and what the process is going to be going forward," he said.

White said he'll probably give an opening statement before the floor is turned over to the audience.

Commission Chairman Bobby Hanig emphasized commissioners want to hear what Knotts Island residents have to say.

"We want to lay out a few of the options that we have currently that we're discussing — and get some feedback from them, just get them involved, kind of let them know and see where they are and what they're looking for," Hanig said.

Hanig said future options for fire protection on Knotts Island include having a mixture of paid/volunteer firefighters, a full volunteer service or some type of arrangement with the nearby Virginia Beach fire department.

Hanig said a fire service tax, which would feature a fire service tax, will be discussed should commissioners decide to have a paid service on Knotts Island.

He said county staffers are working on the details so that commissioners will know the costs to operate a paid department on Knotts Island. The county allocated the Knotts Island Volunteer Fire Department $215,250 in its 2017-18 budget.

Currituck Fire-EMS Chief Chip Melton, in an interview after Monday's commission meeting, said he has been responding to a lot of questions about the Knotts Island situation via Facebook.

"And what I've attempted to do is to put factual information out there," Melton said. "There's a lot of speculation. There's a lot of rumor and people putting out misinformation. At times, it seems as though they want to scare or alarm people. And I don't think that's a good idea."

He said he wants to make sure Knotts Island residents understand what the county’s goals are.

"We are doing the right things with their best interests in mind — and to make sure that they have emergency response when they need it," he said.