It was a packed house at Waynesboro Borough Council last night

September 21 – With at least two major topics of importance to residents in Waynesboro, the Borough Council saw a lot of people come out last night to the council meeting to have their voices be heard. 

The two big ones were the municipal pool and the fire department issues. 

Waynesboro Borough Manager Jason Stains said, “This is America and it is great to have citizens come out, no matter how uncomfortable the subject is, to come out and voice their opinions and give their feedback to Borough Council. That does not happen enough. I know that we have been on the radio together for several years and we always invite people to come to council members and usually it’s the same couple of people in the room. So last night was definitely a larger crowd than what we typically have, but it’s great to see people getting involved at the lowest level of government and taking part in discussions with their elected officials.”

A lifeguard from the pool made comments and you can hear that on NewsTalk 103.7FM’s Facebook page. 

There were also issues with memberships at the pool. 

Stains said, “Borough Council has been very concerned about the pool for several years. We’re trying to apply for all kinds of grants and we’re waiting right now for a grant agreement from the National Park Service so that we can move forward with some repairs at the pool. For the last several years, we’ve always been fearful that when we go to open the pool the following year, we’re going to have some kind of catastrophic failure. I expressed that concern to the recreation board and the recreation board discussed not offering a sale on Labor Day like we usually do. Then, discussions took place with several council members and I spoke with the council president and I was directed to go ahead and make those sales. We had a successful sale again this Labor Day. There was language on the Labor Day membership forms that if the pool does not open we’re going to work with each person and the council president made it pretty clear last night that we will refund those membership fees. There were allegations online that we were using that money to fund something else. That money goes into just escrow and we hold that money every year and we don’t spend it until the pool actually is in operation. So we did the same thing this year, had the Labor Day Sale, it was quite successful and as a result, you heard the council president last night that council members have approached him and we’re going to do everything we can to open that pool again next year. It’s a community service. We don’t always profit off of the pool. But there’s a lot of life safety things. We have swim lessons at reduced costs for our patrons. If that pool goes away, and people can’t afford to join the YMCA, or they’re not able to afford to belong to a pool, a private pool somewhere, where else are they going to go learn those important life skills? So we’re going to make every effort to open that pool again next year, and then we will take appropriate action with anyone that purchased a membership if for any reason the pool can’t open or closes early.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “Social media is certainly poison in some of these issues and I thought the council president addressed that very well at the end of the meeting.”

Stains said, “I thought he made a good statement there and again, even with uncomfortable subjects last night, I commend everyone who got up and addressed Borough Council and came before them to express their feelings on whatever subject it was.”

The big issue in the room last night was the Waynesboro Volunteer Fire Department splitting ties with the Borough of Waynesboro. The issue has been going on for a few months now and it looks like it has reached an impasse. 

The Waynesboro Volunteer Fire Department has sent notice to the borough that as of December 29, 2023, they will no longer partner with the borough. 

The group will be looking for another department to pair with in our service area. 

One comment from a citizen was this:  “It’s just really sad that it has come to this. It seems like it’s just fine. From the firefighters I’ve talked to, from the research I’ve done, they’re fine with splitting. I guess it’s basically they’re tired of the bull***. I just do not understand, as a taxpayer, as a citizen, it bothers me. It scares the hell out of me to wonder if there’s going to be a multi-vehicle accident and we have to wait for a rescue squad to come down from Fayetteville or from Greencastle. Or if we have a major fire and we have to wait for a tower truck to come from Longmeadow or New Franklin.” 

Ryan added, “I think one of the comments I heard from someone, maybe it was that woman that said, hey, listen, let’s just sit the heck down. Why aren’t we sitting down? Then there was an awkward pause out of council. While there may have been some letters back and forth and some responses not happening, the overall theme out of the people there was why aren’t you sitting in the heck down? Then there was that awkward pause of the finger pointing back and forth and I thought the citizen had it right. Why aren’t we sitting down on this one?”

Stains said, “Point well taken. Through this memorandum of understanding process, we talked to them, it feels like a year or so. The team from the borough who sat down with them, we were under the impression when we left the meeting with their team on June 13 that we had a tentative agreement and the borough was going to continue to do a lot of things that we’ve been doing in the past. We’ve been paying for all of their fuel and paying for some insurances, paying for the aerial testing on their ladder truck, paying for pump testing, hose testing, and we had agreed to continue all of those practices. One of the great things I think that came out of the conversation between two parties was major maintenance repair for the apparatus. We, the borough, had agreed for the rest of this calendar year, we would spend up to $3,500 per apparatus for the calendar year. We were going to increase that number in our budget to $5,000 per apparatus next year. The great thing about it is that if we got to a major maintenance issue, both sides had agreed that we were going to get together then when we reached that threshold and figure out how we were going to get this thing fixed. So we came away from that thinking that we had this tentative agreement. I will say that when the borough reps went back to Borough Council, Borough Council, as a whole, directed me to send correspondence to the Volunteer Fire Company asking them to pay for half of the solicitors fees, to draft that agreement. I point blank asked our solicitor what is this going to cost? We’re ball-parking $2,000 to $4,000, split in half. That all depends on once the document is drafted if one side didn’t like this language or this side didn’t like this language and kicking it back and forth, but that was the last thing that we had correspondence for this MOU and we thought that we were moving forward and then received a letter from their attorney subsequently that they were going to basically no longer be affiliated with the borough.”

Ryan asked, “Where’s the fire chief in all of this?” 

There are currently five full time paid firefighter EMTs in Waynesboro. There is a sixth position they are looking to fill. There was also a resignation from a part-time paid firefighter in the Borough of Waynesboro recently.

Ryan said, “Where’s the chief in all of this? I don’t know him. I haven’t talked to him. He’s more than welcome to come on the radio station. But it would appear to me and everybody that was at that meeting, you need the volunteers in Waynesboro, and where’s the chief on all this because you can’t have five or six guys covering the whole thing, right?” 

“I don’t disagree,” Stains said. “The chief took part in all these MOU discussions as well and was in total agreement with what we walked away from the table with.”

Chris Devers, the fire chief in Waynesboro, was at the meeting last night. 

Ryan asked, “Why didn’t he get up and speak?”

“I can’t answer that question,” Stains said. 

Ryan continued, “It seems so obvious to me that this guy, the chief, can’t do everything without the volunteers, and if he’s the guy that the volunteers and the paid are responsible to, it would seem like he would be the guy that should be able to pull off the conversations. If it’s stuck with lawyers, or it’s stuck with paperwork, it’s stuck with emails, in business land USA. I tell my people to go see them. Pick up the phone, don’t email and text, go get something done. It seems like the easiest here is to take some leadership on this one.”

Stains said, “He has never said he does not want volunteers. We rely on the volunteers for this community’s protection. When there is a call on the box cards, he has all kinds of different departments come to this area because we can’t do it alone. We know we can’t do it alone. That’s foolish if we think that our little career department can do it on our own. We need the volunteers to respond. We need Blue Ridge Summit, we need all the other departments in the area to respond to calls within the borough. Bottom line, in the volunteer department’s press release, they said that they would continue to serve as mutual aid responders and we would still rely on them if they do finally decide to leave like they’ve indicated in our letter, but if they stay, they’re still going to be on the box cards. If they go, we’re still going to have them on the box cards, still having them responding to the borough for mutual aid. We can’t do it all by ourselves.”

Ryan said, “We’ve got a lot of time between now and December 29, I hope, right?”

“Absolutely,” Stains confirmed. 

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the meeting last night, it seemed to go by quite quickly. 

Ryan said, “I think the community is finally okay, we want to get involved, we want to make some public comment here, they were caught by surprise because it moved fast. One of the people that got up in the back, said I don’t know what’s happening here. It’s moving too fast, you’re kind of putting your hands across your mouth and your heads are down, because you’re looking at your paperwork and we can’t hear you in the back. Then they turn on the microphones. The microphones have got this buzz in there.”

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “A lot of their work gets done in these workshops and committee meetings where no one shows up and I think it’s easy for them to lose sight of the fact then they come into the regular council meeting, the public has not been privy to all of the debate and discussion at these workshops and they just come in and do quick up and down votes and it’s very frustrating for the public. I was struck at one point during that meeting last night towards the end, a woman just from the floor said what happened to these agenda items? I think she wanted to comment on something and the council president said well, that was part of the consent agenda. We’ve already covered those things. Again, the people from the public, they had no idea that that even occurred. So going forward if this large turnout continues to be more regular, the council might want to look at how they’re operating to make it more user friendly for the audience. I did feel the council was accommodating to the extent people were allowed to get up and speak, say what they wanted to say. Yeah, there were audio problems. That was very frustrating. To amplify and underscore what that citizen was saying, I think she’s articulating where the majority of the public is. I don’t know what’s going on here. I mean, there’s probably like so many of these things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. There’s merit to what the volunteers are saying. There’s merit to what the council is saying. You’ve now got attorneys firing high rhetoric letters back and forth. But to that woman’s point, I think the majority of the public is thinking, look, you’re in there to get this stuff sorted out and figured out. Where’s the leadership? Why isn’t there some overture made? Let’s have a meeting on this day at this time. Let’s all sit down and work this out for the betterment of the community. But it seems like both sides are now so dug in, in their respective positions, no one wants to make that invitation to even extend talks because they think it’s a sign of weakness or it’s showing that they’re caving in, but yet that’s what the public wants to see happen.”