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No tax increase to fund Buckingham rescue squad

Buckingham County will not see a tax increase any time soon in order to fund the rescue squad, but it is evident a higher tax rate could be on the table for the next fiscal year.

Rebecca Carter

In July, the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a Memorandum of Transition between the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad and the board after squad members and Buckingham County Emergency Services Department officials agreed to transfer administrative control of the squad to the county.

With the transition came a recommendation by the Rescue Squad Committee that the board consider a 5-cent real estate property tax increase to support the Emergency Services Department in its new responsibility as the county’s Emergency Medical Response Agency.

In the midst of a global pandemic and after already increasing the real estate property tax rate to 52 cents per $100 of real assessed value after a 10% assessment increase back in April, the board asked County Administrator Rebecca Carter to look for any other possible means of finding funding for the rescue squad without raising taxes again.

At the Monday night, Aug. 10, board meeting, Carter announced an alternative method of funding the squad had been determined.

According to Carter, the rescue squad’s current contract with Delta Response Team (DRT) expires Dec. 15, at which point the county will assume responsibility for the squad.

The anticipated amount of new funds needed to support the squad is $880,000 annually, or $440,000 until the next budget and tax rate process.

Carter said the county will be able to fund the rescue squad until July of 2021 using a mixture of CARES money, carry over funds and cost recovery that can keep taxes from being raised during the pandemic.

As the pandemic worsened, the county put an additional 24/7 ambulance crew at the Glenmore squad building. Carter said the cost of this crew and work done on the station can be funded via CARES Act money, freeing up some capital improvement money that can be used as a one-time expenditure to operate the rescue squad.

Carter said the county also had carry over money in the emergency services budget to use toward the first six months of squad operation. The county will receive cost recovery from the Glenmore station’s calls from April 1 until December.

However, Carter emphasized although alternative funding has been found that can last the county until July, these one-time funds are only a temporary fix, and the county will have to find new funding sources.

Carter presented some different funding options for the future to the board Monday night, including establishing an emergency services district to levy a tax base, using real estate values or personal property values.

Carter said currently the county does not have authority to levy an emergency services tax/fee on each household in Buckingham, though officials can look into this as the county petitions for state authority to impose a solid waste management and disposal permit fee. 

“While it is inevitable that the county will have to find new funding sources for the next fiscal year to fund the rescue squad, I am happy for the citizens and the board of supervisors that we can manage with some one-time money to operate for six months,” Carter said Tuesday, Aug. 11. “I know the board did not want to impose an additional tax burden on the taxpayers at such an unprecedented time.

“Finding a way to fairly impose the tax equally among all citizens is difficult because the county does not have authority to charge an emergency services fee per household.  We will diligently work hard from now until next April to find the fairest solution possible.  This is a service that must be provided and as with all services it has to be paid for.”