By Carol Vaughn —
Accomack officials deferred deliberations on the 2023 budget until after they hear from the public at a Feb. 23 town hall meeting.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at Metompkin Elementary School.
The subject is whether the county should hire 31 employees to provide 24/7 fire and emergency medical services at volunteer fire and rescue stations in Melfa, Saxis, Tangier, and Wachapreague.
Also up for comment are proposals to hire four additional deputies to address the spike in violent crime and one additional prosecutor for the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
All positions are included in the county administrator’s proposed budget.
Adding the EMS positions, at an annual cost of $2.4 million, requires enactment of a 40 cent per pack cigarette tax and a 12.3% real estate tax hike, which would be phased in over three years, according to an advertisement.
Additionally, finding people to hire could be a problem, according to discussion at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Kathy Carmody, chief human resource officer, updated the board on efforts to fill new positions the board approved in August for the Greenbackville fire station.
The board approved 12 positions then, five were to meet countywide needs.
Greenbackville Volunteer Fire Department asked the county to provide 24-hour staffing after the department did not meet the county response standard on 33 of 192 calls last year, with 126 of the calls handled by another department.
Mason said he had Carmody present the information because “I wanted the board to understand what kind of efforts are going into the recruiting process — all the additional levels that have been instituted to try to get those that come forward and want to work for Accomack County … to the finish line.”
Carmody said advertisements were placed in September in newspapers, social media, LinkedIn, and by distributing flyers.
Only nine applications resulted, but by the time testing was conducted the county had 14 applicants.
Recruits must pass a written test and a physical test.
After offering practice for the physical test and study assistance, two test dates were set up in November. Of 14 who tested, four passed.
Ten who did not pass were offered a chance to retest in December, along with additional applicants.
Six more passed then, and two more passed in January.
Of 21 who ultimately applied, two withdrew before testing and 12 passed the test.
The county extended offers to 11. Two declined, leaving nine hired.
Two have previous experience and were able to start work this month.
The other seven start training March 1.
Carmody noted it cost the county at least $375 per applicant for the advertising and testing process.
Recruits’ starting salary is $31,232, with a $3,000 raise after they complete training.
Public Safety Director C. Ray Pruitt said it will be mid-October before the recruits complete training, offered in-house.
“This board okayed the number of people for Greenbackville … in August and we’re now mid-way through February. The class continues to mid-October. So we approved it in August and if we are successful with those recruits, they wouldn’t be on the job until October … 14 months from the time we approved it … And we are talking about hiring 37 more,” said Supervisor Ron Wolff.
“We have an extremely serious problem here,” said Supervisor Robert Crockett, noting experienced firemedics are leaving the county.
He noted Saxis, which is supposed to have a daytime position, has not been staffed in two years.
Crockett received consensus to have staff contact neighboring localities where former Accomack employees are being hired “to find out what they are doing as far as salaries, what they are doing as far as scheduling, how are they recruiting their people … because what we are doing is not working.”
Six people left the Department of Public Safety in the last 14 months, according to Carmody. One went to nursing school, two left for other types of jobs, and three left for EMS positions elsewhere — one in Delaware, one at Wallops, and one in Suffolk.
“In those three where we are losing them to competitors, the number one reason is actually the schedule. Each of those places has 24 on and 72 hours off — that is something that I do hear as one of the top three reasons when I’m doing exit interviews … is that that schedule is very, very popular, and it’s not one that we have. We have 24 on, 48 off,” Carmody said.