Digging Deeper: Monroe County changes plans for new fire station
Author: Nicole Butler
Published: 12:52 PM EDT October 11, 2017
Updated: 8:24 AM EDT October 12, 2017
LOCAL 0 Articles

Monroe County officials are debating what went wrong with their new fire station.

Firefighters laid a foundation, then the county tore it up and now they're planning to lay a new one.

The cost of that mistake? Nearly $15,000, according to county receipts.

Nicole Butler digs deeper to find out when the trouble started and what county commissioners knew about the project.

Here's a look at the three acres where the new Monroe County fire station will be built:

On April 18, Monroe County commissioners approved fire chief Donny Mercer's plans.

The meeting minutes state "Commissioner Evans motioned to proceed with the project. Motion was approved 3-1."

The next day, Chief Mercer and his firefighters broke ground. They even met with the Department of Corrections to talk about inmates helping with the construction.

"My intent was to save the taxpayers money. We were going to do everything we could so DOC could come in and do what they were going to do," Mercer said.

The Monroe County EMS posted this video that day -- the caption thanked commissioners for their trust and support and acknowledged Commissioner Larry Evans stopped by.

Skipping forward to May 9, the firefighters started putting down the rebar. The above photo shows Commission Chairman Greg Tapley at the site.

But the next day is when the confusion starts.

According to a letter from New Commissioner Eddie Rowland to the county manager:

"Commissioner Evans instructed the county manager that all work at the fire department to stop. The reason was that there was no order by the commissioners to do such work and that the DOC was to do the entire project. Evans stated he was unaware (firefighters were given) a go-ahead."

WMAZ reached out to commissioner Evans asking about this change and he said, "The work had to be done by licensed professionals. I never told (Mercer) to go out there and dig a hole."

"If they felt like they didn't approve what we were doing, why did the chairman come out and say he'll take his shirt and shoes and tie off and work with us? So my question is, why did they let us proceed" Mercer asked.

According to the timeline given to us by the county manager, the architect and surveyor approved the firefighters' work on May 12.

According to project invoices, Mercer had the concrete poured around May 15, but all work stopped after that.

"Well the reason we changed the plans from going from concrete and blocks for the building was that the Department of Corrections [said] they don't have any brick masons available, so we decided that metal would be the next best thing," Evans said.

Mercer resigned as fire chief on June 14 saying he felt county leaders wanted him out.

Mercer's exit and the construction mess caused one firefighter to quit.

"I saw hurt and I saw a little bit of disgust because we really worked very rapidly, very fast in the heat and adverse conditions to get the foundation laid and it was thrown back in their face," said former battalion chief John Johnson.

The project sat untouched until mid-September when the county destroyed that foundation.

The total amount spent on that mistake varies depending on who you ask.

"[A] little over $8,000," Evans said.

"You're talking about anywhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 to $40,000 easily," Mercer said.

WMAZ went through the invoices and after adding everything up, the total spent on the project minus supplies they can still use totals nearly $15,000.

Moving forward, Evans says the new fire station should be finished in the spring and will cost more than $1 million.

While reporting this story, we learned that Fire Chief Matt Perry issued a letter to his employees saying "it has even been suggested by a reporter that if our firefighters wanted to give an "anonymous" quote... so anyone wanna guess how that would work out?"

Perry did not return our calls.

County Manager Anita Buice says their goal is to build an EMS Headquarters that is a source of pride for their emergency personnel and our community.