No fire department resolution

Published 2:44 pm Friday, July 31, 2015

By Diana McFarland
News editor

Believing it is close to a resolution, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors unanimously decided Thursday to postpone action on a petition to restore contributions to two fire departments that have yet to sign the facilities use agreement.

Earlier in the evening, firefighters from the two stations that filed the petition — the Windsor and Carrollton volunteer fire departments — threatened further legal action if the petition wasn’t honored.

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The petition requested that funds from fiscal 2015, which ended June 30, be disbursed.

Carrollton was budgeted for $254,536 and Windsor was budgeted for $122,918.

County staff had recommended denial of the petition, but the Board has 90 days, or until about Sept. 10, to respond.

According to Dale Scott, captain of the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department, the petitioners must go to court within 30 days of denial by the Board. However, based on the Board’s lack of action Thursday, Scott is unaware at this time what the next step will be.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Board had offered to pay the station’s bills if they were turned in — rather than make quarterly lump contributions — but Windsor station officials complained that they were saddled with onerous record-keeping and vendor requirements not imposed on the other stations. Carrollton has not submitted its bills to the county. Both stations have been operating off reserves and contributions.

In a public comments session that lasted at least an hour, more than 25 people spoke concerning the stalemate over the facilities use agreement that has gone on for more than a year and resulted in the withholding of funding for those two stations for the same amount of time.

“This is a stunning and protracted failure to resolve an issue,” said Carrollton resident Jim Henderson.

Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department President Fred Mitchell said he had a petition with 270 signatures supporting the two stations.

“I’d rather you give my brothers and sisters (volunteers) a standing ovation than a pat on the back with a knife,” said Mitchell in characteristically dramatic fashion.

Emergency Services Chief Jeff Terwilliger said there were four outstanding issues concerning the facilities use agreement — guaranteed disbursement of funds, the length of the agreement, grass cutting and language about the role of the station chief.

Terwilliger said the main issue was the request to have a guarantee of funding included in the facilities use agreement.

Smithfield Supervisor Al Casteen said funding was a separate issue from the facilities use agreement, as that is handled during the budget process.

As for who cuts the grass, “to let that issue hold this all up is preposterous,” Casteen said.

Board Chairman Rex Alphin said that if the conflict was down to who cuts the grass, then it’s possible to come to an agreement.

Windsor Supervisor Dee Dee Darden ticked off a long list of reasons why the facilities use agreement was initiated in the first place, including an allegation that a photo of a severed limb was posted on Facebook as well as images of a burning house.

The volunteers came to the county with their concerns, particularly inequities and a lack of standards, said Isle of Wight County Administrator Anne Seward.

While the fiscal 2015 contributions to Carrollton and Windsor have been absorbed back into the general fund since the year ended, the Board could move to re-appropriate those funds if it chooses to do that.

Isle of Wight County’s remaining five volunteer fire and rescue organizations signed the facilities use agreement last year. The agreement was conceived as a way to standardize the maintenance and use of the seven county-owned buildings.

In other business, the Board voted unanimously to request a fire and emergency services study from the Virginia Fire Services Board. The study is conducted at no charge to the county, according to a staff report.

This would allow for a third party to give an independent report and allow the county to get started on some things, Seward said.

County staff apparently anticipated approval of the study, as a letter included in the Board agenda packet, distributed prior to the meeting and addressed to the Virginia Fire Services Board, stated the issue was discussed and authorized by the Board of Supervisors.{/mprestriction}