7/21/2011 - Accomack Board debates stricter reporting standards for Fire and Rescue

Fire and Rescue Funding Accountability was a hot topic at the Accomack County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Wednesday, July 20.
But first, during the public comment part of the meeting, Belle Haven Resident and candidate for District 9s seat in the November election, Wesley Edwards addressed the board. He told them that the number one item on the meetings agenda should be the 13 million dollars of uncollected taxes, noting that it wasnt discussed at last months meeting and it wasnt on this months meeting agenda either. Edwards noted that the board did decide on funding another audit, something he said, the board was famous for. He went on to tell the board that a quote he made 5 years ago now seems appropriate; more paralysis by analysis. He added that the county doesnt need new taxes, but to collect the ones they have and suggested that by getting a judgment against those who owe could extend the collection period to up to 20 years.

Mark Baumgardener of Virginia Beach addressed the board concerning the proposed sewage treatment facility in Atlantic. He talked about why facility is needed stating that a study in 2008 showed that there was a dramatic need and one done in January of 2011 found that it was critical for the environmental condition of Chincoteague Bay and the Countys groundwater and for Chincoteagues businesses, noting there are people pumping weekly. He added that studies show that the best place for the system in on the mainland, northeast of Accomack County.

James Bagwell of Bloxom spoke to the board on behalf of the Accomack County Fire and Rescue Commission. He told them that the commission had met last month about the proposed accountability and that the majority was in favor of the policy with the exception of how the money would be distributed. He said they dont want the County holding the funds and asked the board to continue doing business the way it has been done in the past. He added that they were willing to do audits and to provide cancelled checks and receipts along with the year-end reports.

Mike Mason, Director of Finance made a presentation on that proposed accountability for the Fire and Rescue Commission as requested by the Supervisors in April. Mason stated that over 1.2 million dollars of County funds are distributed to fire companies each year and that the County needs a written policy that governs what the funds can be used for. Both the Board of Supervisors and Mason want it known that there as been no alleged inappropriate use of County funds or any other negative action that has prompted the policy. The fire companies have done nothing wrong. The primary purpose of the policy is to provide assurance that the County funds dispersed to volunteer fire and rescue companies are used only for the public good and are accounted for in a clear and transparent manner. Basically the proposed policy would require the fire companies to claim reimbursements, although the County recognizes the companies may have a cash flow problem. To avoid this, advances would be permitted for large purchases. Funds would be disbursed to the companies two times per year, as currently practiced. But if the fire company does not spend all funds awarded during the fiscal year, funds would be held by the County in the fire companys name and would be available for distribution the following year, assuming that report requirements are met. Any interest on funds held by the County would be given to the fire company.

Supervisor Robert Crockett was in favor of the proposed policy stated that he bears in mind an audit letter that another county received as a result of accountability similar to that of the County. He added again, that he wanted it clear that no fire company has done anything to prompt this policy. Supervisor Wanda Thornton felt differently. She reminded the board that the majority of the fire and rescue personnel were volunteers and she doesnt think enough is done to pay these people back for what they do. Thornton went on to say that to make them pay ahead of time creates more paperwork and she doesnt understand what the big deal is. Noting that if the County had to pay for all these volunteers, the County would be bankrupt. Supervisor Ron Wolf agreed with Thorntons comments about gratitude for their service, but said that the Board is responsible for how tax payers money is used. The discussion ensued for about another hour but the issue ended up being tabled. Supervisor Donald Hart said that he thinks the policy is discriminatory and that all organizations receiving funds needs to be treated the same.

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