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Capital improvements, so-called ‘overtime pay’ discussed as supervisors search for budget cuts

By Debbie Hall

The Patrick County Board of Supervisors is considering a number of ways to address a nearly $9 million deficit and balance the budget that begins July 1, with suggestions that include furloughing the annual capital improvement fire/rescue funds.

At a recent board meeting, Crystal Harris, vice chairman and of the Smith River District, said that she has spent nearly 40 years in public safety, and “I know a lot of what the fireman go through.The capital improvement fund was set up years ago. It can only be used to buy equipment or capital improvement. If youre going to roll back taking their money for their vehicles, then you need to take everybodys vehicle money away. No one needs to have vehicle money. If fire and rescue don’t get money for a vehicle, then you need to take everyone elses away. Thats just my opinion. Ive always supported fire and rescue. Ive been accused of being too partial, but I understand where everybodys coming from.

Denise Stirewalt said when I recommended that (furlough), my thought process was only taking it for a year.

I understand you want to furlough it one year, Harris said, adding that the recommendation wasn’t perceived very well. Everybody knows that were in a bind. I know the budget committee worked diligently, but if youre going to take that, you better think about taking everybodys.

Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, said she also thought an idea floated by Sandra Stone, Treasurer, to create a single fund that could be used by any fire or rescue agency was an awesome recommendation.

With a single fund, when a department needs something, then if we have it, we give it and if we don’t, were not able to. I think that would be something if its too late to look in this year, maybe in future years, Stirewalt said. I understand the importance of equipment for both fire and rescue.

I will say when Henry County started their paid service, they stopped funding the fire and rescue squads. Im not recommending that. Im just putting that out there, Stirewalt said.

She recounted a recent discussion with a caller who was so upset, she was talking about suing the county because her parents pay taxes here and it took a (volunteer) rescue squad in their district over 20 minutes to get to her parents house. I want to know why your paid service did not respond first. That’s how it should be in any county. The taxes go for paid service. Your volunteers are your backup, Stirewalt said she was told.

I am 100 percent in support of all our fire and rescue, but I think there should be another way we should be able to handle this. I by no means make any recommendation we should not fund volunteer agencies, Stirewalt said, and added that since the capital improvement funds had been furloughed in past budget years, she did not understand why that wasnt a possibility.

Before when it happened, they were promised double the money back and it didnt happen, Harris said.

Not on my watch, Stirewalt said.

Deloach, of the Blue Ridge District, said he did not have any problem cutting the rest of the vehicles from the budget.

Whats good for the goose is good for the gander, Harris said.

What other vehicles, Crystal, Kendrick, of the Mayo River District, asked Harris, noting that cutting vehicles from the proposed sheriffs office budget had been recommended. The Department of Social Services also has delayed a vehicle purchase.

To clarify, Kendrick said were not doing away with the fire and rescue capital improvement fund. Were only waiving it one year to let us balance budget. Have you got any other ideas? You all asked us to make cuts. I fought fires on Bull Mountain when I was in school. Im all for fire and rescue, but weve got to sacrifice somewhere. Weve got to have a balanced budget this year.

Jane Fulk, chairman and of the Dan River District, said you want to cut the fire and rescue capital funds to balance the budget this year. Next year, where will you get the money to give it back to them (and) keep your balanced budget? Youre not balancing a budget when you take out a whole section at a time. We could have done that last year, and that would have took care of balancing the budget last year if we had done that, but that was not what we wanted to do because fire and rescue is an important part of this county.

So, we find the funds elsewhere, Stirewalt said. What about SROs? Why aren’t we looking at SROs, she asked of School Resource Officers. She noted that Patrick County had only three incidents that occurred at schools between March 20, 2019 and March 20, 2020, but more than 350 requests in that time period for SRO overtime pay.

She noted the sheriffs proposed budget included $115,000 for overtime payments; the 911 Center has requested $45,000 in overtime pay, she added.

I don’t understand the overtime. I just don’t understand overtime. My husband, whos in the accounting field, said he had never heard anybody budgeting for overtime, Stirewalt said, and recommended a total $100,000 cut in overtime pay to the two budgets.

Noting that he also had worked in on business budgets, at churches and hospitals, Deloach said I agree 100 percent. They would have laughed me out of the hospital if I had budgeted overtime.

Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith has said the so-called overtime pay is a misnomer, and essentially is due to bookkeeping. Simply put, it is the way SROs are paid. He also noted that federal law requires overtime pay for anything over 40 hours per week, and that deputies are often called out at night to investigate crimes, transport mental health patients due to Emergency Custody Orders (ECOs), and perform other duties as required.

“Somehow, there is a misconception that deputies are exempt from being paid overtime, but federal law clearly states that is not the case,” Smith said.

Fulk said we have right now seven people, one is strictly overtime all the time, but he is also our extra road deputy that that we pay for. We can go back to having two road deputies per 12-hour shift.

If were paying overtime, wouldnt it make more sense to just do two parttime, and not pay the overtime and not put it on the budget, Deloach asked, and speculated that practice would save money in the long run.

Stirewalt broached the subject of sharing one officer between some schools. It used to work when they had shared SROs, except for the high school, which has a full-time SRO.

Fulk said that SROs in elementary schools may leave their assigned school to answer a call in another area of the community.

Smith said that depends on the type of call. For instance, an SRO may respond to a motor vehicle accident. However, the officer would not respond to a call that posed any type of threat to the school.

I just don’t like cutting fire and I don’t like cutting my resource officers, Harris said.

Its not cutting fire and rescue funds, but determining if they could just do without it for one year to help us out, Kendrick said. We all think just as much of them as you do, he said to Harris, and we arent trying to hurt anybody, but everybody has got to sacrifice.

If you furlough fire and rescue for a year, you knock all the other fire and rescue back a year, because the capital improvement funds are distributed to a single agency annually, Fulk said.

What else do we do? The only other thing I can think of that we have done is cut enough to balance the budget, and that didnt go over really good either, Kendrick said.

Youre not going to be able to put that fire and rescue money in next years budget because youre not going to have any more money next year than you do this year, Fulk said.

Kendrick said that hopefully, we might get some more (revenues) by next year. Were working on something. No guarantee.

Noting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deloach said hopefully we will have recovered by next year and well have more money.

Stirewalt also noted that there are so many grants available for PARC Workshop and the Developmental Center. That’s why I recommend zero there. Keep in mind we don’t need to borrow money from this RAN (Revenue Anticipation Note) to turn around and give it away.

She added that the state gives constitutional officers a raise every year and we have county employees who havent had a raise in going on 5years. I just have an issue with that.

The boards next work session is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, in the Patrick County Veterans Memorial Building in Stuart.

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