By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer
Fluvanna County emergency services will remain status quo until the Fire and Rescue Association and the Board of Supervisors make a decision regarding the future of rescue services.
At a supervisor work session in December, the two boards decided to begin the process of having Lake Monticello Volunteer Rescue take over as the sole rescue operation in the county. All Fluvanna members would belong to LMVR but still be stationed in home communities in the county.
Now, just over a month after that meeting where everyone appeared ready for that future, there is backtrack.
The Fire and Rescue Association (FRA) can not come to a consensus on that being the best path forward. FRA can’t come to a conclusion on the best path overall. The biggest fear is the effect on volunteers from any possible merger.
There is concern that if Fluvanna Rescue is under the Lake Monticello umbrella, it will further drive current and future volunteers away. Currently, Fluvanna Rescue only has five members.
One idea now being championed is combining Fluvanna Fire and Fluvanna Rescue. This would eliminate the need for two stations in each of the three areas of the county and could help for crossover volunteer help.
Not everyone in Fluvanna Fire is on-board with this idea. There are fire members who are concerned they will have to bear too much of a load in both volunteer and paperwork-wise. Kents Store Fire is in support of this because they already have members who help drive for Fluvanna Rescue out of the Kents Store station.
“I don’t want anything that would jeopardize the Fluvanna Fire organization,” said Mike Brent, Chief of Fluvanna Fire. “I don’t want to cause so much dissension in our organization, it may take us down.”
The main reason this is being so heavily pushed now is each fire station in the county was recently built and they all have space for equipment. It also continues the tradition of serving in your community because each station is identified by area name.
One solution being implemented to lower response times is the hiring of an full time provider for night shift out of the Palmyra Rescue station. That will begin by March 1. The contract crew has had an 18 minute response time to a call in Bremo Bluff.
Still, five members of Fluvanna Rescue cannot sustain itself to handle all the paperwork and volunteer recruiting, let alone the ability to cover multiple shifts.
The supervisors clearly thought FRA would provide an answer but the FRA is saying there are too many competing priorities that cause fear of driving even more volunteers away.
“We can make that decision amongst us in an evening,” said Bob Ullenbruch, Palmyra District.
Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) stressed the importance of finding ways to run more efficiently because the board has already discussed not funding vehicles that were previously approved.
Len Bozza, president of Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire and Rescue said based on the FRA meetings, “The FRA is unwilling to [make a decision].”
The Board of Supervisors really cannot make the decisions on how each corporation will operate. Legally, the multiple organizations are each separate private corporations. The Board of Supervisors then authorizes each corporation to respond to calls. The supervisors also help fund each corporation.
The supervisors could unauthorize a corporation and not fund it while funding a different corporation and further authorize that second corporation to respond to calls, but it cannot force it to combine into another corporation.
Supervisors are giving the FRA another chance to make a decision. The board will hear a final proposal in May on the future of Fluvanna emergency services.
Jamie Stafford of Fluvanna Rescue said, “Can we maintain 100 percent volunteer? Probably not.”
Starting in January 2014 the supervisors paid for daytime contract services through the University of Virginia to run one ambulance out of the Palmyra station. This year and just four months of the current budget year, the supervisors are paying from the county reserves for nighttime services also.
The 24-hour operation comes to over $600,000 for a full budget year, well over two pennies of the real estate tax rate.
To help defray some of those costs, expect the supervisors to begin cost recovery of rescue services in FY16, which starts July 1, 2015. While getting it started at the beginning of the fiscal year could be a challenge, it probably will be in place by the end of the calendar year.
A committee that was charged to research the program has recommended to the supervisors to institute a ‘compassionate billing’ program with hardship waivers, resident tax benefit and payment plans.
The compassionate billing option means all insurance companies would be billed, everyone would get a bill of the remainder, however the county would not aggressively go after payments. After typically three attempts at collection, bills would be written off. There would be no collection agency calls.
It is estimated the county could recover $600,000 to $700,000 a year. This year the county spends $1.8 million in emergency services with a budget request of $2.5 million for next year.
Ullenbruch was not interested in compassionate billing but an insurance only option.
“Having to prove you have a hardship is hardship itself,” said Ullenbruch.
The ‘insurance only’ option bills the insurance company only and whatever is paid, is considered paid in full. Often times insurance will only pay 85 percent of cost.
Supervisors will consider a compassionate billing option with hardships and a resident tax benefit at a future meeting. An insurance only option will also be presented. Implementing requires public outreach but most prominently volunteer rescue personnel training of the additional information needed for billing.
The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.
Photo Credits: NBC29, Fluvanna County