Volunteers balk at maintenance plan

Published 7:13 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight fire and rescue volunteers are objecting to the county’s plan to create a separate fund for vehicle maintenance costs as part of the proposed fiscal 2019 budget. 

The volunteers also want to revisit the county’s policy on vehicle titling, according to Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Association Chairman Brandon Jefferson. 

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The plan was for the county to pay the bill for costlier repairs while creating a fund to cover routine maintenance costs, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson. 

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The two funds were designed to relieve the worry by members of the individual stations on how major repairs would be paid for, said Robertson, adding that the station would simply send the bill to the county to be paid. 

The impetus for the new plan was due to several stations experiencing extremely high repair costs and being unable to completely cover the bill, Robertson said. 

To create the fund, the county would subtract the money from each station’s individual, yearly contribution, as well as budget $1,000 a year per vehicle for routine maintenance, Robertson said. 

The individual stations would still be in charge of doing routine maintenance, said Robertson. 

Carrollton Volunteer firefighter Fred Mitchell, who led the defiant fight three years ago against the county’s proposed facilities use agreement, told the Board of Supervisors Thursday that the move was another area where volunteer control, trust and authority was being eroded. 

“You better hold on to that fence. Things are getting ugly again,” said Mitchell, referring to a fence, put up during the dispute over the facilities use agreement, to create a physical barrier between the Board and the audience, namely angry residents such as Mitchell, as he often joked. 

Mitchell warned that this Board, elected to replace the former Board responsible for the facilities dispute, would be county leaders known for “the death of the volunteers in Isle of Wight County.” 

After Mitchell spoke, Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said it wasn’t a matter of not trusting the volunteers, but rather a way to remove the worry over big repair bills. 

“I don’t see us in opposition to our volunteers,” said McCarty. 

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree, who used to be the Carrollton VFD chief, said it was important to be mindful of the perception that the volunteers feel disrespected. 

 “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” said Acree of the current fire and rescue system. 

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice said the volunteers need to be part of the decision-making process and is inclined to pass on the maintenance fund idea. 

The maintenance fund plan doesn’t have “buy in,” said Grice. 

Board Chairman Rudolph Jefferson said there is no desire to disband the volunteers, and that the maintenance plan was seen as a way to ease financial concerns by the individual departments. 

The contribution to each of the county’s seven fire and rescue organizations was reduced in the proposed fiscal 2019 budget to be diverted to the maintenance fund, in percentage ranging from a 10.7 percent decrease for Isle of Wight County Volunteer Rescue Squad to a nearly 40 percent decrease for Carrsville. 

Contributions to each station have also been decreased over the years as the county has taken over paying for utilities and other costs. 

For example, the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department was budgeted $254,536 in fiscal 2015, but is slated to receive $129,500 for fiscal 2019. 

Prior to fiscal 2011, the county did not fully fund the individual fire and rescue organizations, and as a result, many relied heavily on fundraising, as well as coming to the Board individually to request funding during the budget process.  

The decision to fully fund the volunteer organizations, done to alleviate the burden of fundraising and instill fairness into the process, also resulted in standardized reports on revenues and expenditures being required of each agency. 

Prior to the standardized reporting, county staff did not have as much detail on what the agencies spent the money on, and reporting methods varied considerably, said Robertson. 

Vehicle titling

Fire and rescue vehicles and apparatus purchased by Isle of Wight County are titled to the county, rather than the individual fire and rescue organizations. 

Brandon Jefferson said the Fire and Rescue Association wants to revisit this approach as savings could be realized by differences in insurance. 

For example, the county’s insurance under the Virginia Association of Counties does not pay for full replacement of apparatus, while the insurance purchased by the individual stations does allow for full replacement, he said. 

“You won’t have to go back to the taxpayers for money,” said Brandon Jefferson about using the stations’ insurance policies. 

Brandon Jefferson said the Association wanted to get moving on this discussion as Carrollton VFD and the Isle of Wight County Rescue Squad were due to get new ambulances this summer. 

Acree said the insurance portion of the discussion was worthwhile and pointed out that each agency takes special pride in taking care of its vehicles and apparatus. 

Also, all of the volunteer organizational charters convey all vehicles to Isle of Wight if an agency is dissolved, he said. 

Brandon Jefferson said the Association is not being notified of changes to budget items, such as the turn-out gear budget and other line items. 

“That’s kind of bad business,” he said. 

The chiefs have been good stewards of the county’s money and turning it over to Isle of Wight just creates more work for county staff, he said. 

In June 2014 there was an effort by the prior Board of Supervisor to require all fire and rescue vehicles — whether purchased in the past or in the future by the county, by the individual station or a combination thereof — to be titled under Isle of Wight County’s name. That titling agreement was defeated and it was agreed that only new equipment purchased after that date by Isle of Wight exclusively would be titled in its name.