Budget talk focuses on first responders

By Heather Michon, correspondent

Public safety was high on the agenda at the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors’ latest work session for the fiscal year 2020 (FY20) budget Wednesday night (March 13). With Chair Mike Sheridan away on vacation for the week, Vice Chair Tony O’Brien led the meeting at the county administration building.

In submitting their budgets, the county’s fire and rescue services asked for significant spending as vehicles and equipment are aging out of their useful lives. Fire chiefs from area departments were on hand to talk with supervisors about where they felt funding needs to go – and potentially where it can be deferred.

Four vehicles are currently scheduled for replacement: Palmyra’s Ambulance 49, Fluvanna’s Tanker 10 and Chief 1, and Lake Monticello’s Support 56. The total cost to replace all four could total $1 million.

The most expensive is Tanker 10, which could cost close to $500,000.

“It’s at the end of its 20 years,” said Chief Dwayne Mayo. “It’s been a good truck for us.”

Chief Mike Brent had similar praise for Chief 1, a 2008 Chevy Tahoe with over 100,000 miles on it. “I’m able to operate any incident out of that vehicle,” he said. “That’s my office on wheels.”

“If you can’t have everything, what can you do without?” asked Supervisor Trish Eager.

There was general agreement that Chief 1 could wait another year. With representatives from Lake Monticello Water Rescue and Palmyra Rescue not in attendance, the chiefs said they couldn’t speak to Support 56 or Ambulance 49.

“Could the tanker be pushed to another year?” O’Brien asked.

Brent voiced concern at pushing scheduled replacements off by too long. “Right now, everything is fine, but you start cascading,” he said. “You could end up needing multiple tankers in one year.”

New self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) for county firefighters are a non-negotiable expense.

Replacing existing SCBAs will cost nearly $900,000. Fire officials are waiting to hear if they’ve won a $100,000 grant.

Underscoring how vital new SCBAs are to the department, Mayo said, “If it really came down to it, and we didn’t get [the grant], I’d give up the tanker in return for SCBAs.”

“If the grant comes through, it’ll get funded,” said County Administrator Steve Nichols. “If the grant doesn’t come through…you still have to fund it.”

Sheriff Eric Hess outlined some of his requests, including two new deputies, security upgrades for the county courthouse, and replacement vehicles.

“If I don’t get the deputies, we’ll go back to the old way of pulling someone from here and someone from there,” he said. However, with two new judges coming to the county within the next year, the criminal caseload will increase sharply, requiring deputies to spend more time managing defendants.

Throughout the session, supervisors worked to balance the county’s needs against the tight budget.

Rather than fund two deputies, they discussed funding one now and deferring another to a later year. After fielding requests for $100,000 for county department work trucks and $25,000 for two new cars for social services, they ended up tentatively allocating $85,000 for work trucks and $40,000 for social services.

In the next work session, scheduled for March 20, supervisors will look at the health insurance and school budgets.

They will also begin discussions on setting the real estate tax rate. With such a packed agenda, Nichols was skeptical that they would be able to set the rate and suggested they defer until March 27. If that happens, the final vote on the FY20 budget would be delayed until April 24.

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