After a good deal of debate, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors voted 4-3 to divvy up $97,000 in carryover funds to each of the county’s fire and rescue agencies in equal allotments of $3,500 each.
The other option was put the money in an emergency fund to be used in the event of a major breakdown or other large expense.
Fire and rescue funding has been a point of contention on the Board since January, when the majority voting block decided to cancel the random two agency audit system designed to increase transparency.
That voting split remained firm Nov. 15 with Chairman Vic Ingram, joined by Dan River Supervisor Tim Chesher and Gretna-Callands Supervisor Darrell Dalton voting to divvy up the funds, while Westover District Supervisor Ron Scearce, Chatham-Blairs Supervisor Bob Warren and Staunton River Supervisor Tim Dudley voted against the motion.
The fourth vote in favor of spreading the money amongst the agencies was newly appointed Banister District Supervisor Robert Tucker.
In his comments, Tucker said that perhaps the issue of an audit could be revisited next year. He also put out a request for more minority recruitment efforts amongst the fire and rescue community.
“I would like to see more fire and rescue resemble what we look like in the Banister District,” he said.
During the work session before the business meeting where the final vote was made, Warren said he favored putting the money in an emergency fund as a sort of safety net for the smaller agencies. Any request would still need to go through the Fire and Rescue Commission as well as the Board, he said.
Warren didn’t think that giving each agency $3,500 would make much of a difference.
Ingram said he sort of agreed with that, but that the fire and rescue agencies had already been told they would be funded that way, so it was the best way to proceed. It was unclear who had told the agencies that the funding would be split that way prior to the vote.
Chesher suggested that the Board next year form a contingency fund for major breakdown expenses.
“We could lose one of our trucks to a vehicle accident," he said.
Scearce questioned why some agencies had not yet updated their federal IRS 990s — a concern he has brought up several times this year.
The Board has a responsibility to taxpayers, said Scearce.
County attorney and interim administrator Vaden Hunt said the county has a requirement that the agencies file 990s, but not all have been compliant in the past, “but we’re slowly getting there.”
Hunt said it’s not known if the agencies are fully compliant as the IRS is giving extensions.
Form 990 is an IRS tool that provides the public with financial information about a nonprofit organization.
Meanwhile, Pittsylvania County provides its fire and rescue agencies with funding to cover fuel, utilities and insurance.
Earlier this year, the Fire and Rescue Commission, and later the Board, approved a plan that would address the question of funding accountability for the county’s 23 volunteer agencies.
The plan includes a form for each agency to complete and is designed to account for expenditures using county funding left over after the basics are paid — fuel, utilities and insurance.
That funding is based on size and call volume and is contributed to the departments three times a year. Overall, the county contributes about $1.1 million a year to the 23 departments and is based on a three-year average.
The expenditure form would cover categories such as training, emergency medical care and equipment, PPE, apparatus, fire service equipment, public safety education programming and building maintenance.
The first deadline for the form is July 15, 2023, and if it not turned in on time, the first August payment from the county will not be delivered until it is submitted.
In September, the Board agreed to increase the EMS call rate from $15 to $25 — for a total of $77,000 that was also part of the carryover funding that also included the $97,000.