Matt Tatum, director of Public Safety, asked the Henry County Board of Supervisors to appropriate $56,352.56 received from the Virginia Department of Health’s Return to Locality Fund at the Tuesday afternoon meeting.
Though the board unanimously approved his request to appropriate the funds, some members questioned Tatum’s request to consider changing the disbursement formula of the funds to the volunteer rescue squads.
County Administrator Dale Wagoner noted that the board was being asked only to appropriate the funds, not to distribute them.
Debra Buchanan, of the Horsepasture District, asked Tatum if he had discussed the change in distribution at the Emergency Services Advisory Council (ESAC) meeting.
Tatum stated that due to timing, he had been unable to first discuss it at that meeting.
“We always try to allocate these funds as soon as they come available and they just came available last month,” said Tatum. “We had not had the ESAC meeting at that time.”
Tatum explained that the change in distribution had been requested by one of the volunteer captains of the Rescue Squad Association.
“I asked the captain at the time if he had discussed it with other captains,” said Tatum. “He had originally discussed it with two of the other captains and the other captains were in favor of it because they realized it was fair based on responses.”
Tatum said when funds are limited, “somebody’s going to take a reduction” to give the funds to someone else. Tatum said he would be “glad to take it to the ESAC” at the meeting in August.
The current disbursement formula equally distributes the funds between the five volunteer rescue squads and the Department of Public Safety. Tatum requested that the distribution formula be changed according to the number of calls responded to in the last 12 months by an agency. It will allow at least a $2,500 minimum allocation.
“I noticed that when the email went out on July 19th it would not have given captains enough time to talk with the board members or members of the squad to see what their thoughts were about it,” Buchanan said and noted the 7-day time frame required to be put on the board’s agenda.
“It bothers me too that Horsepasture, we are totally volunteer, and it’s a struggle sometimes in order to gain new members,” said Buchanan, adding that “the reduction to the Horsepasture agency would be about $4,871.84. So, when you’re struggling, trying to do fundraising and answering calls too, then you get a reduction like this, it looks like we’re not supporting volunteers.
“It looks like it’s benefitting more the paid staff” than helping the volunteers, she said.
“I realize this is taking away from some of the volunteers and I do realize the Department of Public Safety would gain from it as well,” Tatum said, adding that the Department of Public Safety is answering nearly 60 percent of the calls, “that’s what they-re totally covering. They’re assisting on another 15 to 20 percent of those calls.” He explained the department credits the volunteer agencies even when staff assists them.
Buchanan asked Tatum if the number of calls responded to by a volunteer agency with the assistance of the Department of Public Safety is included in the monthly total for the agency.
He said the volunteer agency always gets credit for the call.
“We try to make the numbers show as much credit for the volunteers as we possibly can,” said Tatum.
Buchanan reiterated that she could not support the proposed distribution formula.
The alternative formula, Tatum said, was the fairest way he could devise at the time. “The other captains agreed to it even when they knew they were going to take a loss.” He added that the captains knew that if their response rate increased, they would receive more funds.
Other board members also voiced concerns.
Joe Bryant, vice chairman and of the Collinsville District, noted that most of the squads are struggling to keep costs down.
“It’s your fund to distribute how you see fit and I’m more than happy to work with you in any way to distribute the funds to make sure it’s used for emergency medical services as intended,” Tatum said, adding that he’d been asked to offer an alternative formula, and is willing to make adjustments, as necessary.