Editorial: Eastern Wake Fire merger: What’s best?

June 27, 2013 

The reactions from Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue board member Ray Broadwell and Assistant County Manager Joe Durham to a proposal from the town of Knightdale – to merge Eastern Wake and Knightdale’s fire departments – are clear indicators that the two sides have a lot of work left to do before any merger can take place.

Knightdale’s proposal calls for eliminating three positions from the Eastern Wake roster, including two that are currently occupied. It would also shrink the area that is currently covered by the two independent departments, meaning some property owners would be lumped into other fire districts not as capable of responding quickly to calls for service.

Knightdale clearly has the upper hand in these negotations. It’s Wake County that wants to get out of the fire service business. Knightdale can put whatever proposal it wants on the table and, if Wake County walks away, well, that’s fine with Knightdale.

Of course, it makes no sense for Knightdale to enter into negotations in the first place without a sincere good faith effort to reach an amicable agreement. We suspect Knightdale’s initial proposal is, indeed, a good faith effort.

But like any initial offer in any negotation, Knightdale is bidding low, hoping to get a deal from a seller who badly wants to sell.

Both sides readily admit that Knightdale’s proposal is simply a conversation starter. But you can be sure, Knightdale leaders won’t be willing to move too much toward the center. After all, they don’t need what Wake County is selling. To get them to buy, Wake County is likely going to have to accept a proposal – maybe not this one – that affords them a little less than they would like in an even-steven negotiation.

But one thing is even more certain. Both sides should make the negotiations a priority. Eastern Wake Fire has been without a chief now for some time, following the termination of longtime chief George Gupton in May, 2012. That means the department has been rudderless for more than a year now. Of course, it makes no sense to hire a new chief at this point if the merger is going to take place. The merged department doesn’t need two chiefs and Knightdale fire Chief Tim Guffey isn’t going anywhere.

But the longer the department has no identifiable leader, the harder it will be to make the case for needed improvements or increased resources.

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