The Gaston Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors unanimously agreed to extend the current fire service contract until Friday, Jan. 31, after receiving a letter from Gaston commissioner Deborah James.

Gaston VFD had previously posted a letter to its Facebook page addressed to the town of Gaston property owners, stating that the fire service contract was set to expire on Christmas Eve if town commissioners did not sign a new contract. At the expiration of the current contract, residents of Gaston would likely see their insurance premiums rise about 70 percent, until a new fire service contract was in place.

In response to the earlier letter, James wrote to the Gaston VFD expressing the concern of herself and Commissioner Donald Conner. The two had previously voted in favor of the new contract, while asking for more time “to do what’s best for our community.”

Gaston VFD Chief Edward Porter, Jr. penned a second letter to the town of Gaston property owners, stating that he received the letter from James and that it was the first communication returned in an official capacity from a town official. 

Porter, James and Conner would like for all concerned town of Gaston property owners to attend the town commissioners meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. and voice their opinion. 

If the extended contract were to expire on Jan. 31, the public protection classification will increase from Class 6 to Class 10 unprotected for the town of Gaston, which would increase the insurance premiums for property owners within the town limits. 

According to Gaston Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Edward Porter III, currently the town pays a total of about $12,500 in funds to the department; the new contract is asking for about $30,000. 

County citizens pay a fire tax of 7 percent that Gaston residents and businesses do not have to pay. The $12,500 that comes out of the town would be equivalent to about 3 percent for residents and businesses.

Porter also said that the fire department has been trying to get more from the town for the past few years, but to no avail. 

Porter said that any insurance rate increases will also affect some of the service volunteers that live within town limits and this isn’t something he wants to see happen.

According to Porter, the current fire services contract was established in the early 2000s and did not have a termination date. It was set to renew itself unless either party gives a 180-day notice. 

A new contract can be signed at any point, and the town will not have to increase its payment until the beginning of the fiscal year, which begins on July 1. 

The new contract brings the town up to paying at the same rate as the county. It also has a five year limit.

According to the first letter, the town of Gaston was made aware in June that the current contract was ending and a new proposed contract was issued. Written in the letter and according to the minutes of the Nov. 4 Gaston town board meeting, Commissioner Franklin Manning stated, “right now the budget is tied up, and we can’t negotiate anything until the new budget comes into play.” 

Gaston town attorney Geoffrey Davis said that the town’s position is that they have paid the fire department for the agreed upon services for this fiscal year that ends June 30, and he expects a letter to be drafted soon to the fire department.