Fire departments will see annual $50K appropriation
County supervisors in Buckingham voted 6-1 to add an annual additional $50,000 toward each volunteer fire department in its fiscal year (FY) 2017-18 budget Monday.
The lone vote against adding the combined $200,000 for the four departments came from District One Supervisor R.C. “Bobby” Jones, who cited future financial uncertainty as his reason for voting against the annual appropriation.
The action came during the same meeting where county supervisors unanimously approved their $47.8 million FY 2017-18 operating budget, inclusive of the new appropriation to the volunteer fire departments in Dillwyn, Toga, Arvonia and Glenmore. The adopted budget includes no tax increases.
During a hearing held on the budget last Monday, seven people — ranging from volunteer firefighters to a member of a department’s auxiliary — spoke in support of the rolling $200,000 appropriation proposed by the four department chiefs.
The motion to allocate $50,000 toward each department came from District Six Supervisor Joe N. Chambers Jr., who stipulated the funds will come from the county’s reserve for contingency.
“I agree they’re in desperate need of funding,” District Two Supervisor Donnie Bryan said. “I think for the first year we go with $50,000 to each fire department and then get together, the full board, sit down with the chiefs, and discuss, you know, what’s the consensus of their fire chiefs … Do they want to rotate the money or do they want to continue with the $50,000 to split up?”
Bryan cited organizational bylaws of the fire departments, which he said called for the departments’ funds and money from sale of equipment to be donated to a charity should a department fold. Bryan said if that were the case, the money should return to the taxpayers.
“I fully support the fire departments,” he said, questioning if the additional funds could jeopardize the nonprofit 501c3 status of the departments.
“My only problem with this is I … know that the fire department needs this $200,000,” Jones said. “But, I have a problem with us stating now
that we’re going to do this every year because we don’t know what’s going to be down the pike. I don’t want to put them or us in a bind. I don’t want to promise something that we can’t fulfill … I still have a hangup of stating tonight that we need to give this $200,000 rolling over each year.”
District Three Supervisor Don Matthews asked Arvonia Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Davis, who was among a handful of volunteer firemen sitting in the audience, to estimate the department’s reserve fund balance with the budgeted funds as of Dec. 31. Davis said the balance could total about $100,000, noting “we can either look at using (those funds) to purchase a large line item piece of equipment, whether it be a truck or replacing airpacks or so forth like that … It would take most of that.”
Davis added the $200,000 rolling appropriation or the individual annual $50,000 was an “either/or” for the fire departments with no preference “based on whatever was easiest for the board and the county.”
Matthews addressed the fire departments’ reserve accounts, noting there was “no need to keep that money for a rainy day. Go ahead and use it because we’re willing to give you the money that you’re asking for.”
Jones, during the end of the meeting, said his vote against the funding didn’t mean “that I don’t think you shouldn’t have that $200,000. I do think you need it. But, I can’t see tying us down for something that might happen different later. That’s why I voted like I did.”
“If this board wants to give this $200,000 extra to the fire departments for a one-year thing, I have, I think, a solution,” Jones offered during last Monday’s regular board meeting. “What I would like to put out (is) … to reach that $200,000 that we need to give, I look at our budget … on solid waste site, there’s $150,000 set aside for that. We don’t know when that’s going to happen … I say that we can take $50,000 out of that. If it comes in later, we can do it out of our contingency if we have to.”
He also proposed taking $100,000 out of a $250,000 fund for debt service on the proposed new library. “We don’t know how soon that’s going to start … and I would say that we could take $100,000 of that … The other $50,000, I would say we can take that out of the reserve for contingency.”
Saying his calculations resulted in $200,000, he said, “whether this is a reality or whatever, all I’m saying now is this board has got something to think about and the people do too.”
“Out of our discussions, it became clear that each department has financial needs that are significant and require long-range planning in order to ensure that we are able to maintain readiness and meet our mission to serve the citizens of Buckingham County,” the four department chiefs said in their initial joint proposal to County Administrator Rebecca S. Carter. “To that end, we have developed (a) proposal. We would like the county to consider implementing a rolling appropriation to each department, in addition to the regular appropriation, to assist us with the large purchases that are facing each department. By providing this on a rotating basis, each department will be able to plan for these expenses in such a way that will make paying for them manageable.”
The agreed-to $50,000 to the departments is in addition to the departments’ regular annual appropriation.
During Carter’s presentation on the budget that preceded the public hearing last week, she reviewed the proposed budget’s revenues and expenditures and changes in each category. She said the reserve for contingency totaled $540,427 before the budget was adopted.
“As you know, the cost of nearly everything related to fire service equipment, gear, insurance, etc. has historically been quite high,” the four department chiefs said in their original correspondence to Carter. “Apparatus are the high-profile items that everyone knows are unbelievably expensive — a new pumper can easily exceed $400,000 — but what most people don’t realize is that merely outfitting one firefighter with personal protective equipment and a radio can easily top $2,500. This gear needs to be replaced on a rotating basis in order to maintain effective firefighter protection. Self-contained breathing apparatus cost about $7,000 each and every department requires at least a dozen of these units. These are just a few examples of the expenses that each department routinely deals with.”