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Supervisors await meeting on funding for F-C rescue squad
Sunday, April 8, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors are mixed on a funding request from Fieldale-Collinsville Volunteer Rescue Squad.
“Right now, we are waiting for them to meet to discuss the issue and find out what they need and if they will have serious operational problems if we do not give them” the $95,000 the squad had anticipated, Ridgeway District Supervisor H.G. Vaughn said Saturday.
Clinton McCloskey, F-C’s EMS chief, said the county’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget derailed the squad’s goals to streamline operations, improve efficiency and reduce expenses.
“Currently, we have six motorized vehicles on the fleet,” he said. “Our goal is to go to four because it will cost less to operate,” maintain and repair because vehicles would be under warranty.
The F-C squad also planned to adopt a cycle to buy a new ambulance every three years, giving each vehicle a nine-year lifespan.
The estimated cost of the ambulance this year is $165,800, McCloskey said.
That is a $23,500 difference between the $124,800 grant the squad received from the State Rescue Squad Assistance Fund and $17,500 it received from the local United Way, McCloskey said.
The squad expected to receive the usual $95,000 allocation from the county to cover the remaining cost of the ambulance and a new first responder, multi-use vehicle, he added.
However, when the county’s $116,201,474 proposed fiscal year 2013 spending plan was unveiled last week, Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin proposed giving the F-C squad only $11,000, which he said was the difference between the squad’s grant and United Way funds and the $153,000 the county recently paid for a new ambulance.
Summerlin also told the supervisors that a comprehensive study of the fire and rescue systems is set to begin in the next fiscal year to help determine how many fire and rescue vehicles are needed to meet residents’ needs and other factors. It will be conducted by state officials, and the county will pay only travel expenses, he said.
That is all well and good, according to Collinsville Supervisor Joe Bryant, who also is on the F-C squad’s board. But, he noted, the funding reduction came as a shock.
The squad was “blindsided” by Summerlin’s proposal, Vaughn said. He also was not aware that the squad had received grants to help pay for the ambulance until the budget proposal.
To seek a resolution to the matter, the supervisors directed Summerlin, Bryant and other county/squad representatives to meet and reach a compromise, according to Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan.
McCloskey said squad representatives hope that meeting will take place early this week.
Buchanan said the supervisors expect that a compromise will be reached, but her support would “depend on what the compromise is.”
Vaughn said the board has some “leeway to move money around” in the budget. There also may be some room for adjustments, for instance “where we may have been overly conservative on revenue estimates, or where expenses may not be as much as we anticipated.
“If necessary, and if it came down to it, we always have our uncommitted fund balance to work with,” Vaughn said of the fund that is used to provide incentives for economic development “and other unanticipated emergencies.” But that would be a last resort, he said.
Board Vice Chairman Tommy Slaughter said that if the county increased the funds to the rescue squad, the money “has got to come from somewhere, and like Benny (Summerlin) told us, if you increase it over here, you’ve got to take it from somewhere else.”
Other organizations/agencies also are worthy, Slaughter said.
Also, there are two “big things that bother me about this whole thing,” he said. County money “is earmarked for ambulances only, and they want to buy a first responder type vehicle, which is not authorized. I feel sure that F-C knew the rules and regulations, but planned their budget around doing otherwise. That’s one of my problems.”
The other is that the county bought an ambulance that cost $151,000, “and the one they want is $165,000” because of additional lights and “basically because there are cameras all around it,” Slaughter said. “I don’t think we bought a substandard ambulance for our people, and with the economy like it is, we are putting more kids in classrooms, cutting teachers and” only buying a portion of the vehicles needed to replace high-mileage vehicles at the sheriff’s office, Slaughter said.
Even if the money for increased funding to the squad is found, “I am not totally in support of giving the squad the $95,000 because of the grants they’ve already got and because” purchasing the other vehicle doesn’t fall within the county’s criteria, Slaughter said. “If you deviate from that for them, you are opening the doors to” future requests.
Board Chairman Jim Adams said it is premature to comment before the meeting occurs, but he does not know where the money would be found to increase funds to the squad.
“Any time you have an expense that is outside of what has been proposed as a budget, you either have to reduce the budget so that it will balance — because there are no new revenues — or something else would have to be changed” such as taking the increase from unspent funds in the current year or the county’s contingency fund, Adams said.
The new fiscal year does not begin until July 1, he said. The amount of any unspent funds in the current budget cycle will not be known until after that.
Bryant said while he would support the squad receiving the full $95,000, “I’m not 100 percent sure where to pull it from.”
In lieu of the full amount, he would support F-C receiving $50,000 to $60,000.
“That would be a big benefit to us,” he said.
Iriswood District Supervisor Milton Kendall could not be reached for comment.