By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors voted to hold two public hearings to receive comment about adding county positions to make it possible to staff Greenbackville Volunteer Fire Department 24 hours a day and to add positions for backfill staffing, a training coordinator, and human resources.
Greenbackville Volunteer Fire Department requested the county provide paid EMS personnel at the department 24 hours a day.
The department previously was approved to have paid staff Monday through Friday during the daytime.
Still, over the past year, the department has been fully staffed (with two paid county employees during the day on weekdays) only 35 days, according to Charles R. Pruitt, Accomack County Director of Public Safety.
The county currently has three daytime vacancies, which along with employees being pulled out to do recruit training, 24-hour position vacancies, and personnel on extended leave accounts for the gap, Pruitt said.
Greenbackville Volunteer Fire Dept. spends around $24,000 a year of its own money to pay EMS personnel, according to Barry Outten, the fire chief.
Outten during the public comment period at the July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting asked the board to approve 24-hour staffing and said Greenbackville is agreeable to the idea of revenue sharing.
Colby Phillips, senior general manager of Captains Cove, the large community near Greenbackville, also spoke asking for 24-hour staffing.
“Response time is a matter of life or death,” she said.
Greenbackville over the last year has not met the county standard of responding to calls within 20 minutes or less on 33 out of 192 calls, and 126 of those calls were handled by another agency, meaning its station reliability was 34%, compared to much higher percentages for other fire companies in the county, including Chincoteague at 94%, Saxis at 82%, Bloxom at 91%, Parksley at 97%, and Onancock at 96%, among others.
Pruitt proposed the county add 12 positions — seven fulltime employees, three positions for back fill to cover for employees on leave and vacancies for three shifts, a training coordinator, and a fulltime human resources position.
Benefits of instituting 24-hour staffing at Greenbackville include that the county’s response-time benchmark would be met; another EMS unit would be added to the northern part of the county; the need for mutual aid from Oak Hall Rescue and Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Co. would be reduced; and likely improved employee recruitment and retention (because most fire and EMS personnel want 24-hour shifts).
At an estimated cost of $794,219, an EMS tax increase would be required in fiscal year 2024 to pay for the additional staff.
“We are very lucky in the county of Accomack that we have dedicated volunteers. We need those volunteers,” Pruitt said, but said a training coordinator is needed to coordinate training for both career and volunteer personnel, as well as to train new recruits and provide continuing education.
Pruitt said it takes around nine months to train a new recruit.
The position would cost the county around $83,000 a year including benefits, according to Accomack County Finance Director Margaret Lindsay.
The human resources position is needed because the county since 2016 has added 15 fulltime employees to the Department of Public Safety, as well as 10 more fulltime employees in other county departments.
Staffing models say the county Human Resources Department should have 3.5 fulltime equivalents, plus a director and a half-time administrative support position, Pruitt said.
The department currently has one fulltime position, a .25% administrative support position, and a person who splits time between human resources, risk management, records management, and Freedom of Information Act duties.
The position would cost the county around $68,000.
Lindsay said a 2.5 to 3.5 cent hike in the EMS tax would be needed by fiscal year 2024 to pay for the initiative.
The initiative requires a public hearing before it can be instituted.
“You have previously advised us that this board will also need to consider increasing taxes next year because we are at the limit as far as making cuts and so forth,” said Supervisor Robert Crockett, directing the statement to Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason.
“We’re going to be faced with those next March and also be faced with this the following March, two consecutive years,” Crockett said.
Mason said the board could choose instead to increase both tax rates next year.
Crockett said he would like the board to look at the request as two separate items — first, Greenbackville’s request for 24-hour staffing and, second, the backfill, training coordinator, and human resources positions.
“I’d like to be in a position where I can vote on Greenbackville and vote on the others separately,” Crockett said.
He also said he would like staff to research the amount of revenue that could come from revenue sharing with Greenbackville.
“There is no doubt that something needs to be done,” Crockett said.
“Greenbackville deserves this. I think we need to do this,” said Supervisor Donald L. Hart Jr., noting the Greenbackville area’s growing population and its location in the far northeastern part of the county.
Hart spoke about previous tax hikes to pay for EMS services.
“Not one time in my 40 years (on the board)…have I heard any citizens come and raise Cain about raising taxes for EMTs or fire,” he said, adding, “…I think the public will support it.”
“They came in and asked us to raise their taxes,” Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr said of past requests.
“I think it’s reasonable,” said Supervisor Paul Muhly. “This is probably the most important thing we do as a governing board, is to provide this service to our citizens.”
Other board members also supported the proposal.
Wolff called the proposal “a first attempt” to address public safety needs.
“Right now, Greenbackville is sinking,” said Chairman Ron Wolff, adding, “…We as the leaders of the organization, we can’t afford to have one member drown; everybody’s got to be afloat.”
Mason said the backfill positions are needed to make the plan work.
Broadband Project Areas Changed
The board approved changes to a memorandum of understanding with the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority that replace areas already being served by another wired broadband provider with alternate areas where ESVBA will instead expand its fiber-to-the-home service.
The MOU was entered into in February and included around $866,000 in various projects.
It was found since then eight areas originally proposed for expansion are already being served by Spectrum, Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason told the board.
Areas removed from the MOU are on Chincoteague Road, Coal Kiln Road, Daugherty Road, Dogwood Drive, Greta Road, Hacks Neck Road, Redwood Road, and Hillsborough.
Replacing those areas will be projects on Stump Town Road, Justiceville Road, Parks Road, Horntown Road, Bloxom Road, and Holland Road.
The cost of the projects is approximately the same as for the ones originally listed.
The board also approved eligibility guidelines for a broadband installation assistance program offered through ESVBA. The board in February gave $50,000 towards the initiative to help low- to moderate-income residents pay for connecting to ESVBA’s network.
The eligibility guidelines are:
Internet Assist Program-Proposed Eligibility requirements:
1. Qualifies for the FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit program using the following criteria and applied at www.checklifeline.org using one of the following four eligibility rules:
Qualifies for FCC Lifeline benefits through participation in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit;
Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 due to job loss or furlough and has a total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
Received approval for benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year.
2. Qualifies based upon the FY2021 HUD 80% low-income limits for the county based upon the number of persons in family.
Food and Beverage Tax
The board approved scheduling a public hearing about instituting a food and beverage tax of 5%, which if approved will affect around 68 businesses in unincorporated parts of Accomack County.
A public hearing must be held before the board can vote on implementing the new tax.
The tax is projected to raise at least $300,000 a year for the county, which could help offset the anticipated cost of a new state mandate to pay overtime wages, which county officials estimate will cost around $241,000.
Northampton County has a 4% meals tax, which raised $329,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2020, according to Mason.
Additionally, the towns of Onancock and Chincoteague each have a 5% meals tax, while Parksley and Onley have a 4% meals tax.
The county tax would not apply within town limits.
Opiod Settlement Dollars Coming to Accomack
Accomack will receive a portion of money coming to Virginia as result of settlements and court orders related to opiod lawsuits.
The board approved a resolution approving the Virginia Opioid Abatement Fund and a settlement allocation memorandum of understanding.
Accomack’s share is calculated to be .348% of funds in the state’s Opioid Abatement Fund, calculated based on opiod-related deaths, emergency room visits, and prescriptions.
The board passed a resolution approving the Virginia Opioid Abatement Fund and a settlement allocation memorandum of understanding with the state.
At least around $107,000 should come to Accomack as result of the initial settlement, with additional settlements likely in the future, according to Accomack County Attorney Jan Proctor.
Attorney General Mark Herring in a press release said Virginia is expected to receive more than half a billion dollars from opioid distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal, and opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson as result of a multiyear investigation into the role opioid manufacturers and distributors played in creating and prolonging the opioid crisis in Virginia and across the country.
In total, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal, and Johnson & Johnson will pay $26 billion that will go towards prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts in communities across the country.
Most of the up to around $530 million Virginia is expected to receive will go towards Virginia’s opioid abatement authority.
“The roots of the opioid crisis began in the marketing offices and board rooms of pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and ran straight into the homes and medicine cabinets of Virginians. Distributors like McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal spread billions of doses of highly addictive opioids throughout our communities, helping to fuel a crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and upended the lives of Virginians in every corner of our Commonwealth,” Herring said, adding, ““No dollar amount will ever be able to bring back the Virginians we have lost to this devastating epidemic, but we can at least dedicate our time and resources to preventing further loss through prevention, treatment, and recovery. Throughout my time as attorney general, one of my top priorities has been to go after the pharmaceutical and marketing companies that created and prolonged the deadly opioid crisis, and I will not stop until all those involved are held accountable.”
Tall Grass Ordinance Proposed
The board voted to ask state elected officials to pursue adding language to state law that would allow the county to require residential property owners in the agricultural district to keep their grass cut.
The law would not apply to active farming operations.
“It seems like a big step to take for a fairly small problem, but if that’s the only recourse we have, I would like to do this,” said Supervisor Harris Phillips, who made the motion.
Supervisor Robert Crockett asked Phillips to amend the motion to include consulting with the sheriff first to seek information about the sheriff’s office’s ability to enforce the law if the General Assembly passes it.
Accomack Will Help Pay for State Police Equipment for Crash Investigations
The board of supervisors voted to pay $5,500 towards the cost of equipment the Virginia State Police uses for crash investigations.
Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr said he, Chincoteague Town Manager Mike Tolbert, and VDOT representatives spoke with a state police official about the need for the equipment.
The Chincoteague causeway after a recent fatal crash was closed for six hours as police processed the scene.
Police told the officials they could have accomplished the task much more quickly if the proper equipment had been available.