By Taylor Boyd
Members of volunteer fire departments within the county asked the Patrick County Board of Supervisors for the funds furloughed last year to be reinstated in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
I talk to you as a citizen, as well as you the members of the board, a servant to the county about something near and dear to my heart and that is fire and rescue,” Buddy Dollarhite, chief of the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department, said adding he knows the board is going to have a difficult time completing the budget for fiscal year 2021-22.
“Last year, public safety really had carried a lot of the load when it came to those cuts, fire and rescue, the police department. One thing that was cut was the fire and rescue allocation for capital improvements,” Dollarhite said.
Three years ago, the county allocation for fire and rescue was $170,000. It was cut by 10 percent two years ago to $153,000. “Then last year, there was nothing allocated to that,” Dollarhite said.
“I call that an allocation. I don’t call that a contribution. I feel like fire and rescue is part of infrastructure just like any other department and we need it to survive and to make this county prosperous,” he said.
Last year, Dollarhite said the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department was awarded a $106,000 grant so it could order 16 air packs, which were approximately $7,500 per pack.
“We were extremely lucky. Although we tried three times, we were finally able to get a federal grant. There are quite a few departments coming up in the next five years that are going to have to find these funds. What I’m asking for is not an increase or anything. We’re just asking to put back what it was before,” he said.
“Fire and rescue does a great service for the county- county-wide and locally,” Kirk George, of Ararat Fire Volunteer Department, said.
George said he knows the Board is facing a difficult challenge with the budget, but the fire and rescue departments are “already stretched paper thin. There is a tremendous amount of expense that goes into maintaining what we already have.
“The money and the volunteers is getting harder to come by, but the maintenance and the calls we run are not decreasing, they’re increasing, and the volatility that we have to face is increasing as well,” George said.
“We took that out of last year’s budget because we were in dire need of balancing the budget,” Denise Stirewalt, of the Peters Creek District, said. “We had to cut contributions, and I agree with you, it should be an allotment in part of our budget.”
Stirewalt said the request will be a topic of discussion at the budget work session on Monday, March 22.
“We definitely want to try to put it back if we can this year,” Clayton Kendrick, of the Mayo River District, said. “We’re working on the budget now and we’ll definitely take it into consideration because fire and rescue is one of the most important thing we got in this county. We’d be hurting without you.”
Clyde DeLoach, of the Blue Ridge District, said “it will take some kind of miracle to help you all out this year,” but he hopes it can be done.
Jane Fulk, of the Dan River District, said she believes the money for fire and rescue is needed.
“I believe we needed it last year. I do not think we should balance our budget on the health of our citizens,” she said, adding the healthcare of citizens in more rural areas of the county is impacted by cutting the money that goes to fire and rescue.
Crystal Harris, chairman and of the Smith River District, said she has fought for fire and rescue due to its importance.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved the Comprehension Community Corrections Act for local responsible offenders and the Pre-trial Services ACT.
*Approved a request to write a letter of support for Primland’s license changing from a restaurant license to a hotel license.
*Appointed Rebekah Williams to the Board of Social Services for a 4-year term, starting April, 2021.
*Appointed Pam Smith on the Economic Development Authority (EDA) Committee for a 4-year term.
*Approved the bills, claims, and appropriations with a 3-2 vote. Fulk and Harris said they voted against paying some of the items because they did not approve of some of the bills listed.