Budget talks underway

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Fire & Rescue to move; elem. SROs not likely

By John Barnhart

    Bedford County’s fire and rescue department may be moving into a portion of the former county group home facility. The consensus of the supervisors, at a Monday night work session, was to accept Deputy County Administrator Frank Rogers’ recommendation that the fire and rescue department move its headquarters there.
    Jack Jones, the county’s chief of fire and rescue, has been looking for a new home for the department for some time. His department occupies three trailers on Falling Creek Road. According to Jones, two of the trailers were old classroom trailers that the school division got rid of. They are now unserviceable.
    “Often the pipes have frozen,” Jones told the supervisors. “The heat is sporadic.”
    The facility lacks adequate space to accommodate the number of people taking training classes.
    Jones’ department would use the administration building and school plus one cottage.

The cottage would provide bunk space for career EMS staff while on duty. They currently use space in one of the trailers as a bunkroom.
    According to Rogers, the fire and rescue department has enough money set aside from billing to cover debt service on the facility for three years, taking care of 40 percent of what the county owes on it.
    “We have a debt to pay,” Rogers said. “We have to find a way to pay it.”
    “You have a lot of outstanding debt and the revenue stream to pay for it is gone,” commented Mark K. Reeter, the county’s new administrator who was attending his first supervisors meeting at the end of his first day on the job. Reeter said that the supervisors need to either find a way to reduce that debt or find another source of revenue.
    The supervisors were generally supportive. District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard wanted the buildings and grounds committee to get involved. District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson wanted Reeter and Rogers to get together and offer the supervisors some proposals. However, District 4 Supervisor John Sharp pointed out that the supervisors are too deep in the budget cycle to have time for that and District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin noted that the fire and rescue department has the money.
    “This is one of the best things I’ve heard since I’ve been coming out [to board meetings],” said Martin.
    “Good, now we don’t have to go and find $320,000,” commented District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek about the debt service payment this year.
    Sheriff Mike Brown probably won’t get the additional 16 school resource officers he requested. Sheriff Brown said that the request came as a result of looking at school security following the Sandy Hook shooting. This would put a school resource officer in each of the county’s elementary schools. Brown said that he can’t guarantee doing this would prevent a school shooting but, “it would give us a better opportunity to stop it before it starts.”
    This request would cost $850,000.
    “Sheriff, I respect you for coming and asking for this,” Sharp said.
    Sharp, however, would rather see all teachers who have concealed weapons permits receive training.
    “I’m not afraid of that solution,” Sharp said. “We trust them to teach our children.”
    It would take a change in state code to make Sharp’s suggestion possible, according to Sheriff Brown
    Sheriff Brown will get his request for a school resource officer for Bedford Middle School. The city currently pays for that position, but, after reversion, the town will no longer do so.
    He also asked for an additional animal control officer as the town will no longer fund one as part of the town police force. The supervisors were not receptive to this. Sharp said the city currently has a leash law and this is something the county isn’t obligated to enforce.
    “If they have an additional ordinance that they want enforced, they need to pay for it,” Sharp said.
    Sharp said he would be willing to support picking up a fourth of the cost of an additional animal control officer if the town picks up the rest of the cost. Pollard prefers to stick with the four the county already has.
    Sharp questioned a Sheriff’s Office request for replacement vehicles for school resource officers.
    “Why does a school resource officer need a car?” Sharp asked.
    “Because he is a sworn officer in the county,” Sheriff Brown replied.
    Sheriff Brown said that a school resource officer needs a police car if he makes an arrest. His office also uses the resource officers for road patrol during the summer.
    The budget also contains $150,000 to expand a career-staffed ambulance serving the Forest area to a 24/7 operation.
    According to Jack Jones, this will take pressure off four rescue squads that provide coverage for that area.
    “The coverage is not adequate,” said Jones, explaining the need.
    “There’s people’s lives at risk,” said Sharp, who supports the request. “If there is anything that is a priority of local government, it’s emergency services. I think this is a priority, period, and I won’t back down from it.”
    The budget calls for spending $300,000 for a new emergency generator at the county nursing home. Rogers said this is needed because the home’s current emergency generator was moved from the old county nursing home when the new one was built. It will not power everything if the nursing home loses outside power. Rogers said the county got lucky during last summer’s derecho because Bedford’s municipal power system, which provides electricity to the nursing home, did not lose power.