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Board aids VFDs with funding

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Aug. 13 to approve a total of $60,000 in supplemental funding that will be distributed evenly to the county’s six rural volunteer fire departments (VFD) to offset the cost of insurance.

Wade Bartlett

This will not result in an increase of the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget.

The vote occurred during the board’s regular August meeting, and County Administrator Wade Bartlett explained the issue to the supervisors, pulling largely from the board meeting packet summary.

“The (Fire-)EMS Committee comprising supervisors (Jerry R.) Townsend, who is the chair, (Llew) Gilliam (Jr.) and (Gene A.) Southall met on June 20 and June 28 to research and discuss the financial/operational needs of the county’s volunteer fire and EMS agencies,” Bartlett said.

At the July meeting of the board, the committee made the recommendation and “the board opted to table action until its August meeting for the county to allocate funding for the Rice, Prospect, Darlington Heights, Hampden-Sydney, Meherrin and Pamplin volunteer fire departments in the amount of $10,000 for each department for a total of $60,000,” Bartlett said.

“This was done to help offset the cost of the accident and sickness insurance coverage on the volunteers and the property and casualty insurance coverage on their apparatus and buildings,” he continued.

As the summary stated, the county administrator noted that the county has $125,000 in its current budget slated to be returned to the fund balance. Bartlett added during the meeting that an additional $45,000 would be returned to the fund balance, referring to the county’s share of the proceeds of timber sales in the Prince Edward-Galleon State Forest. This additional amount was announced during the Aug. 13 meeting by Tom Zaebst, assistant state forests manager.

Speaking of the total amount to be returned to the fund balance, Bartlett said part of that money could be used to fund the recommendation of giving the VFDs additional financial support without increasing the impact to the FY20 budget.

“Several years ago, the county had advocated for all of the volunteer fire departments to obtain workers’ comp for their volunteers and increase the coverage of their umbrella insurance policy; the volunteer fire departments complied with this request which increased their insurance expense by more than $10,000 annually,” Bartlett said. “The increased liability insurance facilitates the county’s management of the Line of Duty Act and ensures adequate coverage of their equipment, property and their volunteers.

“Providing the members’ workers’ comp insurance is vital in the recruiting of volunteers and guarantees these men and women will be taken care of in case they are injured while volunteering to protect their fellow citizens,” he continued. “The liability insurance costs at least $10,000 for each department, and workers’ comp costs several thousand dollars more.”

Bartlett and the summary noted that with the increased operational expenses, volunteer fire departments are experiencing strains on their budgets and have been discussing eliminating the workers’ comp coverage and/or reducing their liability insurance coverage.

“This would not be in the best interest of the residents of the county nor the volunteers,” Bartlett said.

He also acknowledged the note in the summary when he said that “the committee did not recommend additional funding for the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department because they receive considerably more funding from the Fire Programs fund. They received $28,438 this last year compared to slightly more than $13,100 from the county departments. This puts the county departments on a more equal footing with the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department. In addition, Farmville Volunteer Fire Department receives additional assistance from both the town and Longwood.”

Confirming the impact of the Fire-EMS Committee’s recommendation on the FY20 budget, Bartlett said the $60,000 “would be taken from that line item which was going to be returned back to the fund balance anyway, so the overall budget would stay the same. It’d just be allocated differently.”

There was no discussion among supervisors prior to the unanimous vote.