Discounted rents for local fire and rescue

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    Fire and rescue organizations in Patrick County will automatically receive a 50 percent discount on the rental of school facilities, following a unanimous school board vote.

    J.D. Morse, of the Smith River District, on Thursday proposed an amendment to discount the fee for local fire and rescue organizations. It was approved in a unanimous vote.

    Morse said Crystal Harris brought the issue to his attention. Harris is a constituent in his district and member of the Smith River Rescue Squad. She also represents the Smith River District on the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, where she is chairman.

    Recently, the Smith River squad rented the school in Woolwine to hold a fundraising event, according to discussion at the school board meeting.

    Fees are charged to help offset the costs of operating the facilities, according to Dean Gilbert, assistant superintendent.

    “Our energy system rolls back on nights and weekends,” beginning at 4 p.m. on Fridays, Gilbert said. If someone wanted to use a school building, for example at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, Gilbert said it is necessary for a staff member to alter the energy saving measures and provide heat or air conditioning, lighting, and the like.

    Fees vary, according to the building used, the length of time needed, whether a custodial employee donates their time to clean-up and other factors, Gilbert said.

    Additionally, “if they’re not making money, we don’t charge them,” Schools Superintendent William Sroufe said.

    Kandy Burnett, of the Dan River District, and current vice-chairman on the school board, asked if rescue squads and fire departments charge fees when their facilities are rented.

    Morse said he did not know about all of the organizations, but was familiar with the policies at the Fairystone Volunteer Fire Department, where a donation is requested for use of the facility.

    The rental form also asks patrons to perform certain housekeeping activities when the event is over, Morse said. For instance, if seating is moved, the renter is asked to put it back in the position it was found, and also to clean the facility.

    Ronnie Terry, board chairman, said funds managed by the school division are taxpayer funds. “It’s not our money, should we donate that to other” organizations, he asked.

    Morse said the conclusion he reached was that taxpayer money is involved either way, “whether it’s from the schools or donations” to the squad. “Where’s the happy medium?”

    Burnett said the 50 percent discount seemed a good compromise.

    After the meeting, Sroufe said he had asked Dee Owens, principal at the Woolwine Elementary School, to contact Harris and tell her the squad’s fee would be discounted by 50 percent.

    Harris attended a school board meeting and presented a check for the full amount, Sroufe said. He did not recall the amount of the check.

    At a recent Board of Supervisor meeting, Harris said the cost was nearly $400.

    In other matters, school officials:

    • Heard an update from Sroufe on the My School Bucks program, an online tool that can be used to pay for lunches. Account balances also can be checked and automatic payments scheduled. Also, the school division’s iPhone app includes the school division’s calendar, power schools, staff directory and other tools.
    • Learned the Patrick County High School was among the winners in the Virginia Breakfast Challenge, a school breakfast initiative that ran from Oct. 1 through December 31.

    Following closed session, the board approved a personnel report as amended.