Former Wake official to serve as Parkwood trustee

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 03:18 PM

A former head of Wake County’s emergency management office will serve as the trustee of the Parkwood Volunteer Fire Department as officials work to put its finances back in order.

County Commissioners on Monday approved the appointment of Ray Echevarria to the post. The Parkwood department’s board has also consented to the selection, Deputy County Manager Lee Worsley said.

Echevarria, who retired in 2012 as Wake’s director of fire and emergency management, will oversee the department’s business operations, signing off on most spending and personnel decisions, Worsley said.

He’ll also be responsible for submitting plans “for steadying the financial affairs” of the south Durham department and resolving concerns about its operations, Worsley said.

In addition, Echevarria will provide “any assistance needed” by the county and Parkwood as they arrange the transfer of the department’s ambulance service to the county, he said.

But Parkwood’s chief, William Colley, will remain in charge of the department’s day-to-day operations, Worsley said.

The move to appoint a trustee comes at the county’s request, after a summer and fall of worry by officials about the department’s finances. They were reacting to a finding in its fiscal 2011-12 audit that suggested the department was using funds from an insurance reserve to cover day-to-day operating expenses.

That led to questions about the health of Parkwood’s cash flow. The department ended fiscal 2011-12 having spent $4 million and having received $3.9 million.

County officials have parallel concerns about department operations, which developed after the city of Durham’s fire chief questioned its handling of a September house fire in southwest Durham.

The questions there center on whether Parkwood has sufficient personnel at one of its substations to answer fire and ambulance calls at the same time.

Echevarria was one of three candidates county officials and Parkwood directors interviewed for the trustee job. “We all agreed any of them could do it, but we all agreed Ray was the best fit,” Worsley said. “He lives in Person County, so he’s close [by].”

He has worked as a fire chief – he once headed the town of Apex’s fire department – and as Wake’s emergency management boss had to deal with a similar trusteeship situation involving one of that county’s volunteer departments, Worsley said.

The county will draw on Parkwood fire district tax revenue to pay Echevarria for his work. The district tax is a property tax surcharge paid only by those who own land and buildings in the rural portions of south and southwestern Durham County the department covers.