Providing funding for the fire and rescue system is serious business for Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Mercer).
“We’re establishing a process and procedure so those guys know they have something they can count on,” said Burton, chairman of the finance and government services committee, at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a symbol to volunteers we’re serious about providing funding.”
Burton said the county has two choices, funding the system from its general fund or creating a special tax district. The committee favored a single countywide tax district, funded by a levy on real property, to support the county’s fire and rescue system and 17 volunteer companies. The county currently finances the system with local tax revenue and the funds the volunteer fire and rescue companies raise on their own.
“What we’re funding is the current level of services. It’s basically keeping business as usual until we have that level of service defined,” said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), adding that the tax rate will keep fire and rescue services “afloat for next year.”
The county hired a consultant last year to develop a strategic plan for the delivery of fire and rescue services. The consultant, EMSSTAR Group, recommended the county establish a dedicated funding source for the services, namely a single taxing district. The county’s draft fiscal plan for 2003 allows for the creation of that district and proposes a tax rate on real property of $.06 per $100 assessed value to generate $23 million for the system.
County Administrator Kirby Bowers said the creation of the tax district would establish a “protected account,” with the taxes that are raised mandated to remain in the fire and rescue fund.
FUNDS FROM the taxing district will be supplemented with a $1.09 million transfer from the general fund and nearly $300,000 in departmental revenue, as proposed in the 2003 fiscal plan. Expenditures in that year are expected to be $24.4 million.
“The vast majority of taxes raised would be going to the overall system,” said Ben Mays, budget officer for the department of management services. Mays said $.065 of the 2002 fiscal year tax rate supported the administration and career staff with the volunteer subsidy at $.02 to $.04.
“Action on this has to be concurrent with setting of the tax rate on April 1,” Mays said, adding that the tax rate can be changed. “Next year, it’s going to be more than 6 cents. In the long run, it’s going to be 10 cents.”
Board Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) asked why the county needs to rush to set up the tax district.
“We’re in the middle of creating the plan,” York said. “We’re creating a tax district before we fundamentally have that plan in place. … I would disagree we need to do this next year.”
“In my own mind, we’re 90 percent there, except the administration part of getting things moving,” Burton said. “Trying to bring together two sides to make one system has not been easy. It’s the right thing to do to let everyone know we have an established, integrated system. … I don’t think you understand how fragile the relationship between the two sides of the house.”
The finance and government services committee agreed 2-0-1 to forward to the Board of Supervisors its recommendation to create a single tax district. Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) abstained from the vote.