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Two county department heads, Sergei Troubetzkoy, the Bedford area’s director of tourism, and Jack Jones, director of fire and rescue, came to the board of supervisors asking for permission to redirect funds that they already have on hand.
Troubetzkoy has a fund balance from the current fiscal year and wants to use $9,358 of that to participate in a program that will run a bus twice a day to the Amtrak station in Lynchburg. The bus, operated by the Greater Roanoke Transit Authority, will begin running from Roanoke on July 19, making a stop at the Bedford Welcome Center on its way to Lynchburg. Troubetzkoy said that, in addition to Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem and Bedford are already supporting it.
The Welcome Center will have parking spaces designated for people using the bus. Riding the bus will cost $4 which, he said, is less than the cost of driving to Lynchburg and there is a shortage of parking space at the Amtrak station there.
Troubetzkoy said that this is a one-year pilot program to help promote tourism in the area. Amtrak has a long-range plan to expand passenger rail service westward to Tennessee and success of this bus program would demonstrate local interest in train service, encouraging it to include a stop in Bedford.
According to County Administrator Kathleen Guzi, the amount requested funds only a pilot program. If it works, it will become self-sufficient.
The proposal was opposed by some members of the board of supervisors.
“I see this as non-essential,” said District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington. “I won’t support this.”
“It’s basically to offset the parking problem in Lynchburg,” commented District 4 Supervisor John Sharp, who worried that it could create a parking shortage at the Welcome Center. Sharp called it a government subsidy.
Others took a different view.
“I think it’s going to help tourism,” said District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry.
District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler said that it’s a potential economic development measure.
“It may give us a shot at getting the train to slow down in Bedford,” he said.
In answer to concerns about government subsidies, Wheeler said that the biggest users of the interstate highway system are truckers, yet the trucking industry did not build it; the government did.
“Government has a place in infrastructure,” he said.
Wheeler said that he is willing to take a gamble with $10,000 for one year to see if the idea works. He asked for a report on how the pilot program is doing after six months.
“Frankly, I am in favor of trying it,” said District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer, who added that he’s willing to go along with Troubetzkoy’s plan on how to use the leftover money.
Troubetzkoy’s proposal passed on a 4-3 vote with Wheeler, Neudorfer, Lowry and Board Chairman Annie Pollard voting in favor and Sharp, Arrington and District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek opposing.
Jones’ request was approved unanimously.
“This is not a request for other funds,” Jones said.
Jones told the supervisors that he already has the money, but needs to redirect it to hire six paramedic/firefighters and six EMT/firefighters to provide career crews to supplement service provided by the Bedford area’s volunteer rescue squads.
According to Jones, there are just not enough volunteers. There are more people who work out of the area than in the past, and more two-income families. People also face more demands on their time.
Meanwhile, the demand on the rescue squads have increased, he said.
“We are looking at all-time highs in call volumes,” said Jones, going on to say that call volumes are double what they were 20 years ago.
“Bedford Life Saving Crew had three calls at dinner time tonight,” he said.
Rising call volumes, 10,171 in 2010, with a shortage of volunteers means slower response times. Jones passed out statistics showing that nearly half of all calls in March, 2011 were turned over to another rescue squad other than the one that was first due for that area. More than half were turned over in April and May. Turning over the call means that the first due rescue squad was unable to respond and another squad had to be paged. In March, 85 callers had to wait at least 30 minutes for an ambulance. In April, it was 93 callers and in May the number was 75.
“This is the bare minimum to meet the current need,” Jones said of his request.
This was echoed by rescue squad captains and fire chiefs who turned out to fill most of the seats in the supervisors’ meeting chamber.
“The proposal you have before you is the minimum needed,” said Richard Downey, captain of the Stewartsville Rescue Squad.
In other business, the supervisors unanimously voted to approve a special use permit that will allow Mayberry Drive-in to install seven small amusement rides behind the drive-in’s diner. The amusement rides will be open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The permit also allows occasional outdoor entertainment or music.