Two local governments made public appeals in recent weeks for Franklin County to cover more of the costs incurred when volunteer first responder squads under their jurisdiction handle Franklin County calls. Both localities wanted Franklin County authorities to respond by Dec. 1.
One of these matters, pertaining to the Rocky Mount Volunteer Fire Department, reached a resolution at the Nov. 17 meeting of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors. The other, involving Cool Branch Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad in Pittsylvania County, remains unresolved.
At the Nov. 9 meeting of the Rocky Mount Town Council, Town Manager James Ervin said that the previous arrangement with the county “has given us a little bit of heartburn.” While the county provided $30,000 a year toward the fire department’s $170,000 budget, more than 60% of the calls the volunteers get dispatched to are outside town limits.
Though the county has provided the department with more than $300,000 in gear, Rocky Mount officials said the arrangement put town taxpayers on the hook for expenses incurred beyond the border. The crux of the issue was that the county provided stipends for responding to calls and covered such expenses as utilities and fuel for all county fire departments except the one in Rocky Mount.
“We need to be made whole because in the long run they can’t sustain that,” Ervin said before the Nov. 17 supervisors meeting.
In the agreement supervisors passed 7-0 after a motion by Rocky Mount District Supervisor Mike Carter, the county agreed to reimburse the town for such expenses as electricity, gas, fuel, insurance and equipment in an amount proportional to the number of calls per quarter that take crews outside town limits. The county also agreed to pay stipends for running those calls.
The town in turn agreed to have the Rocky Mount Volunteer Fire Department adopt the county’s public safety operating guidelines and procedures. The agreement takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.
Regarding Cool Branch Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squads, located in Penhook just on the other side of the Franklin County border, discussions over funding have been ongoing for months. Pittsylvania County authorities assert that though more than 60% of the incidents that the Cool Branch squads handle are in Franklin County, especially in The Water’s Edge community, Franklin County only supplies 16% of the funding for the squad.
Franklin County officials said they weren’t in a position financially to increase the money paid for Cool Branch services in letters sent in February and August to Pittsylvania County.
In October, the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors passed a resolution offering three options — adjust the area where Cool Branch would be expected to arrive first and pay for every service call in Franklin County; raise the county’s annual contribution from $20,000 to $40,000 and cover half of all capital expenses going forward; or change the border to cede the portion of Franklin County served by Cool Branch to Pittsylvania County. The resolution demanded a response by Dec. 1.
Franklin County supervisors did not discuss the matter in open session during the Nov. 17 meeting.
“The Dec. 1 decision deadline remains in place,” wrote Caleb Ayers, Pittsylvania County public relations manager, in a Nov. 19 email. “Providing quality and swift fire and EMS coverage for the entire Penhook community in both counties is of great importance, but the Pittsylvania County taxpayers cannot continue to bear the majority of the costs.”
A statement provided Nov. 20 by Franklin County Administrator Chris Whitlow cited a long relationship with Cool Branch and noted that Cool Branch Rescue Squad is allowed to fully bill patients in the county for services rendered. During the Nov. 17 meeting, Franklin County supervisors approved $500 bonus stipends to all fire and EMS volunteers who have responded to Franklin County calls since March 1, including those in Cool Branch.
The statement asserts that fire-EMS squads based in Franklin County have the capacity to arrive in the same locations that Cool Branch covers at response times that are “essentially equal,” and that Franklin County’s Fire-EMS squads are certified at a higher level of care.
“Due to the potential restriction of fire and EMS services by neighboring Pittsylvania County, Franklin County is actively working to assure its residents of uninterrupted, continuous and improved fire and EMS coverage responses within the Penhook-Union Hall area,” the statement said.