Proposed budget agreement could help improve Pittsylvania County fire and rescue service

Agreement would incentivize fire departments to respond to more calls

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. – Currently, all 25 of Pittsylvania County's volunteer fire departments are reimbursed each year by the county for their expenses.

The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for a switch to block funding.

Pittsylvania County Fire and Rescue Association President Dean Fowler said the association is asking county supervisors for about $3 million in the upcoming budget, a $995,000 increase from the association's budget in the current fiscal year.

He said the money would pay for training and equipment replacement and is needed to address two studies, one in 2006 and one in 2015, that showed the fire departments need to improve.

"We were substandard across the state and across the nation as to the funding, as to the services delivered, our equipment, our replacement plan, that we have for our equipment. This starts the process of moving us forward," Fowler said.

Under the block funding format, departments would get 50 percent of their funds up front, with the remaining half split into two payments throughout the year.

"I think the last one is scheduled that, if a department meets 70 percent of their calls, they'll receive that funding," Fowler said.

Fowler said that's the current agreement outlined in the county's proposed budget, but emphasized that both the budget and the agreement are just proposed at this point and not final.

If departments meet 85 percent of their calls, they would get additional funding.

 "That's a bonus that's put there to try to entice these departments to work harder," Fowler said.

Pittsylvania County Public Safety Coordinator Chris Slemp said it may do just that.

"We have some folks that are probably just outside that window. We can work with those guys and figure out how we can improve that. We're not far from meeting a few of those goals," Slemp said. 

"When we pulled some numbers lately, we discovered that we're doing a lot better than we originally thought. We're very pleased with that. I think we can make a lot of that happen. It's on the minds of everybody; what can we do" to get better?

Still, Fowler and Slemp plan to work with the county administrator to tweak the current agreement.

"To make it a little more friendly for folks and see how we can do that and work with these folks one on one to improve services," Slemp said.

Nothing will be official until county supervisors vote on the budget.

Before that happens, though, seven public hearings will be held to discuss the budget.