Funding of the county’s fire and rescue system is an issue the Finance and Government Services Committee wants the county to resolve.
The committee agreed Jan. 22 to four recommendations for the Board of Supervisors. One of the recommendations calls for county staff to prepare funding options, such as tax districts, for the system. Fire and rescue services are currently funded through real estate and property taxes.
“There are budget implications to this. There needs to be a clear ending point, so staff has t,upervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles), committee member.
Committee Chairman Jim Burton (I-Mercer) said if the board approves of the recommendation, the county would commit to establishing a predictable and stable source of funding for the system. Committee members voted 2-0-1 in favor of the motion, with Hiatt abstaining from voting on all four motions staff developed before the meeting.
“Whatever we do, it’s not going to please everyone,” Burton said.
The committee’s motions addressed some of the concerns of the Fire and Rescue Commission. The commission assembled 19 work groups to assess a report compiled by a consultant, hired last year to develop a model fire and rescue system and outline ways for the county to implement the model. The commission presented its concerns with the EMSSTAR Group, LLC report Jan. 15 at a meeting with the committee.
“This is a volunteer system augmented by career and county resources,” said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), committee member. “There are aspects of our current system that need to be shored up and made more optimal.”
THE MOTIONS INCLUDE recommending the Board of Supervisors:
* Accept the Fire and Rescue Commission’s analysis of the report.
* Direct staff to develop bylaws and other governing documents establishing a new Fire and Rescue Commission and provide options for the commission’s membership, roles and responsibilities. The report recommended the commission include four members, but several commission members said after the Jan. 15 meeting they wanted more. The commission currently has eight members. The number of members for the commission is still to be determined, said Doug Rambo, chairman of the Fire and Rescue Commission, adding that six members would be a compromise.
* Direct staff to put into a matrix the recommendations from the EMSSTAR report and the Fire and Rescue Commission, along with providing an analysis of any conflicting and unresolved recommendations. The Board of Supervisors will direct EMSSTAR to develop a service plan based on the results for the last of five tasks in developing a new county fire and rescue system.
“We’re trying to move on, and I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Burton said.
“You brought us a long way,” Rambo said in response. “For the first time in a long time, I think we see consensus. I think we will end up with a strong viable system. We’re over the hump. Now, it’s a matter of fine tuning.”
Rambo, in a follow-up interview, said staff, volunteers and the commission have been worried during the past six to eight months. “Just having the board taking some of the uncertainty out of some of the discussion is important for us,” he said. “We’re trying to find the best path through this.”