County Connection for Week of 03/14/2018
By David Smitherman
Pittsylvania County Administrator
Wherever you go and regardless with whom you speak, there is little disagreement that the County’s Fire and Rescue agencies deserve additional County support. Our volunteers provide life saving services and ask little in return other than our thanks. We value the sacrifices these men and women and their families make to keep us safe.
Traditionally, the County has funded these volunteer agencies through a reimbursement program. We reimburse for tires, oil, heating bills, electricity, and vehicle insurance. The County has not had any formal or written relationship with these agencies that receive a modest amount of taxpayer funding to assist with “overhead” expenses. Otherwise, these agencies must fend for themselves.
The proposed FY19 budget continues the current momentum to structure volunteer emergency services as a single system instead of 25 individual agencies. We want to support all of our departments equally, and in turn, we want them all to provide a basic standard of care and response. With the support of Public Safety Coordinator Chris Slemp, our agencies are working together better than ever, and response times show improvement. The average EMS response rate in 2017 was 70%; that same number was 44% from January to June 2017. Congratulations to our emergency responders for such a dramatic change!
The proposed budget recommends an increase of $1M in County support for Fire and Rescue agencies. On average, each department will receive at least 25% more funding than customary. We are eliminating the reimbursement schedule and providing funding as a “block grant” to allow agencies to invest County support where needed and not just for tires, oil, and fuel. In exchange, the County asks that the agency comply with the County’s purchasing policy, provide an annual financial report, maintain an “on-call” duty roster, and limit the number of vehicles on the County’s insurance policy to seven.
We will greatly increase and subsidize training for our volunteers and work with the Danville Lifesaving Crew to create distance-learning opportunities. The budget adds a staff position to assist departments with inspections and pre-fire planning to increase readiness and fire prevention. We will also stock ambulance supplies in-house to aid replenishment and reduce costs through collective purchasing. All of these initiatives are aimed at reducing the administrative burden of our volunteer agencies to reduce effort, save money, and place focus on response.
The Board of Supervisors has been asked to raise the tax rate by 2.5 cents to support our volunteers. Staff recommends that this $1M increase be applied to building a cohesive emergency response service that helps our volunteers by eliminating administrative overhead and increasing funding for operations and capital. We hope to build a strong foundation for emergency service providers.