COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE
Volunteer Fire Rescue Funding Policy
Approval of the Policy to confirm funding commitments and system expectations
Tucker, Foley, Davis, Eggleston
LEGAL REVIEW: Yes
February 1, 2006
ACTION: X INFORMATION:
In the past, operational funding for the volunteer fire and rescue system was based on an equal distribution of funds to each volunteer fire and rescue station regardless of their actual expenses. In addition, volunteer stations would borrow funds from a one million dollar County funded no-interest account (on a first-come, first-service basis) to purchase apparatus, and on a limited basis, for building replacements/additions. While this method of funding was adequate for some volunteer stations, other stations that were responding to more emergency calls and managed a larger volunteer staff found it difficult to operate and often had to rely on fundraising to meet their basic operational needs.
Over the past two to three years, staff worked with the Albemarle County Fire Rescue Advisory Board (ACFRAB) to develop a revised funding initiative for the volunteer fire and rescue system. The goal of the volunteer funding initiative was to fund 100% of the volunteer station’s basic operational expenses and fund apparatus purchases through the County’s CIP process. The primary purpose of the policy was to support the continuation of a volunteer system by relieving volunteers from fundraising as much as possible to pay for basic operating expenses. This approach allows volunteers to focus their primary efforts on responding to calls and training.
Beginning with the FY04/05 budget process in the fall of 2003, staff worked with the Albemarle County Fire Rescue Advisory Board (ACFRAB) to define the basic expenses that would be included in a station’s operational funding. In addition, staff and the ACFRAB established goals for the replacement of volunteer fire rescue apparatus which includes defining standard apparatus specifications, defining apparatus replacement criteria, and determining an appropriate fleet size for the system.
The result of this work is documented through the Volunteer Fire Rescue Funding Policy (See Attachment A) which was adopted by the ACFRAB during the November 2003 meeting. As the Board is aware, although this policy has not been formally adopted by the County, it has been utilized as the basis for funding the system over the past two years, beginning with the funding of 85% of the operating cost and moving to 100% funding of these costs in the current fiscal year. This policy also addresses one-time costs, consolidated purchase of goods and services and capital expenses. The County has been transitioning into full capital funding of emergency apparatus and will complete consideration of the final step of that transition during the coming budget process.
The attached Volunteer Fire Rescue Funding policy was approved unanimously, though 5 voting members abstained (See Attachment B). The Department of Fire Rescue abstained from voting, but agrees with the funding proposal with the exception of the issues raised below.
Provide effective and efficient County services to the public.
Staff believes it’s important for the Board to formally adopt the enclosed policy to establish clear expectations for the system in providing the higher level of funding approved over the past two years. Since its adoption by the ACFRAB, there
have been a number of instances where expectations set forth in the policy have been questioned. Specifically, questions
have been raised by some stations regarding the need for an established fleet size, standard apparatus specifications, apparatus replacement criteria and budget reporting requirements. While staff has and continues to work through these issues with the ACFRAB, Board clarification of expectations through this policy will confirm the County’s direction in funding the system.
Regarding the specifics of the policy itself, there are two items where staff and the Advisory Board are not in agreement. As the Board considers adoption of the policy, these two items will need to be considered. An overview of these two issues follows:
Under the current arrangement to fund emergency apparatus, the County has committed to pay 100% of the cost for emergency vehicles based on a basic specification agreed to by the County and ACFRAB. This includes all basic equipment, tools, hose, etc. This commitment is significant and well beyond what most localities provide and guarantees that volunteer stations will not need to utilize any of their own funds to have adequate emergency apparatus. Under the ACFRAB proposal, proceeds from the sale of this fully equipped apparatus, which may be as much as $25,000, would be utilized not for basic, essential needs, but for items above and beyond the basics needed to respond to emergencies. According to the policy adopted by the ACFRAB (section 5.3), it had previously been agreed that any upgrades to emergency apparatus would be at the volunteer stations cost. This latest proposal is not consistent with the proposed policy and utilizes funding intended to meet the basic needs, for extra items the volunteers had previously agreed to fund themselves. This issue was discussed at the January Advisory Board meeting and the volunteer members suggested that sole title in the volunteers name and proceeds going back to the volunteer stations was important to maintain “pride of ownership” and because of a concern that if the apparatus were co-titled, the County may have some ability to move equipment from the volunteer stations. In addition, they felt they could get more proceeds if they sold the equipment themselves and should have the right to use the money as a way for the County to show more support for our volunteers. Because of their concern regarding this issue, the Chairman of the Advisory Board plans to appear at the Board meeting and address this issue on behalf of the volunteers.
Staff has attempted to consider to issues raised by the volunteers. In addition, we have considered the County’s values of stewardship and return on investment. We also attempted to develop some type of compromise position on this issue, but were unable to do so. While the Board could address these issues in a separate agreement, it would not be enforceable without a shared title on the apparatus and would require that sections 5.3 be be amended or deleted from the policy previously agreed to. While this issue may seem insignificant, other localities have had similar concerns and addressed this issue in a similar way. Staff realizes that the volunteers see this as an issue of control and autonomy. Staff views co-titling and proceeds going back to meet the basic needs as a good business practice and responsible fiscal management. We realize the volunteers feel very strongly about this. Our research shows that each of our benchmark localities have either co-titled or fully titled apparatus in the name of the County. Although staff has attempted to come up with a compromise position, based on the County’s values, research of other localities and recognition of the significant investment the County has already made in the volunteer system through additional funding, staff continues to believe that co-titling and the County receiving the proceeds is a reasonable expectation.
Should the Board decide that lawn care and janitorial services are to be included in basic operational funding, the operational funding for each volunteer station would need to be adjusted accordingly at some point in the future. Staff estimates lawn care and janitorial services for all stations to total ~ $64,000 annually. Because the County has already supported funding of the operational and capital expenses, only annual changes in these items will have a fiscal impact. Regarding the issue of proceeds, it is difficult to estimate the amount that would be realized on the sale of any given piece of apparatus at the end of its useful life. The sale of a larger piece is estimated to be between $15,000 and $25,000 dollar.
Once both issues listed above are considered and resolved, staff recommends that the attached ACFRAB Volunteer Funding Policy be adopted as official county policy.
Attachment 1: ACFRAB Policy SAP-DEP-007 Volunteer Funding Policy
Attachment 2: ACFRAB Action Record
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