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Rescue squad, county to meet on funds
Friday, April 6, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Collinsville District Supervisor Joe Bryant asked the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Thursday to help the Fieldale-Collinsville Volunteer Rescue Squad, which he said was blind-sided by the county administrator’s recommendation to provide much less capital funding in fiscal year 2013 than the rescue squad anticipated.
Bryant brought up the issue during the supervisors’ work session on the proposed $116,201,474 county budget for fiscal year 2013, which will start July 1.
The proposed budget includes only $11,000 of the $95,000 the rescue squad applied for through the rescue squad association.
County Administrator Benny Summerlin said the $95,000 was requested to help pay for a new ambulance for Fieldale-Collinsville, but the squad has received two grants, reducing the portion Henry County taxpayers would have to pay to $11,000. Summerlin said under county policy, the rescue squad is eligible for no more than that unless the supervisors change the policy.
Summerlin said at Tuesday’s budget meeting that the funds requested must be used for ambulances.
“It hit them hard,” Bryant said of the rescue squad.
Bryant, who said he was not aware of the strings attached to the money, said the rescue squad had expected the full $95,000 and had made plans on how to use it, including some capital expenses other than helping buy the ambulance.
He said it was his understanding that the county has in the past provided capital funding to some rescue squads for capital expenses that deviated from the county policy. But Summerlin said to his knowledge, the county never deviated from the policy, though years ago, the county used to provide $50,000 no-interest loans to rescue squads.
Bryant, who is on the Fieldale-Collinsville squad’s board of directors, also said, among other things, that it’s expensive to run a rescue squad, that rescue squads work hard to raise funding, and that rescue squads might be discouraged if Fieldale-Collinsville gets only a small part of the $95,000 it had expected.
The $95,000 is from a county fund for capital spending for rescue squads, and the annual appropriation rotates between the five squads in the county.
Bryant also said the county seems to have reduced funding in various ways for rescue squads in recent years, more so than for fire departments.
Summerlin said various departments and agencies, not just Fieldale-Collinsville Rescue Squad, would receive less money than they anticipated in the proposed budget.
As an example, Summerlin said in recent years, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office has been getting funding for only about half the police cars it requested. He said in fiscal 2013, the sheriff’s office wanted money for 16, but there is enough money only for eight.
“It’s regular to get 125,000 miles on one (a vehicle),” said Sheriff Lane Perry.
Tommy Slaughter, Reed Creek District supervisor, vice chairman of the supervisors and a former police officer, said county vehicles tend to get ragged when they get that much mileage.
Summerlin also pointed out that volunteer rescue squads in the county are getting sizable revenue from soft billing since the county hired supplemental emergency personnel.
He said in a budget year in which both the county and county schools are facing big revenue shortfalls, capital funding is a place to look for cuts.
A number of supervisors said they could understand the dilemma/concern if a rescue squad is in the rotation to get the annual county capital appropriation and had been planning for it, and then gets much less. They suggested that rescue squads be notified in advance if that is to happen.
Supervisors, including Bryant, praised Summerlin and the county staff for their careful financial/budgeting planning and oversight. Jim Adams, board chairman and Blackberry District supervisor, noted the county’s fund balance has increased. “That doesn’t happen by accident,” he said.
Among the ideas suggested Thursday to try to help the Fieldale-Collinsville squad were using county contingency funds or revenues from soft billing.
Ridgeway District Supervisor H.G. Vaughn suggested that county staff and representatives of the Fieldale-Collinsville squad meet to discuss the $95,000 request and proposed $11,000 funding, and the board of supervisors agreed. A meeting will be scheduled.
In a phone interview, Clinton McCloskey, EMS chief for the Fieldale-Collinsville Volunteer Rescue Squad, suggested that the county fund from which the rescue squad is requesting $95,000 is a capital fund and the county has at times in the past approved capital expenditures other than ambulances.
He said the county administrator’s proposal to fund $11,000 of the $95,000 requested was based on a projected total ambulance cost of about $153,000 (about how much the county most recently paid for an ambulance), minus a total of $142,300 in grants the rescue squad received from the State Rescue Squad Assistance Fund ($124,800) and the local United Way ($17,500). He said the actual cost of the ambulance is $165,800, with the additional cost because the ambulance has extra safety options, including brighter lights and cameras to help protect against blind spots and when the ambulance is backing up.
He said if the county follows Summerlin’s recommendation, at the very least, it should fund $23,500 ($165,800 minus $142,300).
But he defended the squad’s request for the full $95,000. Beyond the $23,500 to help buy the ambulance, the money would be used this way: about $62,000 to help purchase a $124,000 quick response vehicle to match a state grant for which the rescue squad has applied, with the balance to be used to buy training mannequins and other training equipment. The squad has applied for grants to help with those costs.
McCloskey also pointed out that the county previously cut operating funds to rescue squads, but Fieldale-Collinsville received some contingency funds from the county. He also said the squad’s general donations and United Way donations have declined because of the poor economy.
The public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled at 7 p.m. April 16 in the meeting room on the first floor of the Henry County Administration Building.