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By CATHY DYSON
On Tuesday, King George supervisors vigorously defended the county's fire and rescue services, with Dale Sisson Jr. calling it one of the "finest rural systems anywhere around."
They told residents--who said they feared someone might die because of the reported lack of paid people and volunteers--that slower response times and staff shortages were part of life in a rural county.
The board had a different tune on Wednesday.
During a work session, Supervisor Joe Grzeika asked--seemingly out of the blue--what it would cost to hire more emergency services workers.
Other board members joined in the discussion, looking for ways they could squeeze new positions into the budget.
Supervisors have been working on next year's budget since January, but not once have they discussed hiring more fire and rescue workers for 2012-2013.
Residents have, though.
A state report released in December described the King George fire and rescue service as "dysfunctional and dangerous" due to its lack of people and standard procedures.
At a town-hall meeting in March hosted by Supervisor Ruby Brabo, the county's top paid and volunteer chiefs admitted there were "serious issues" in the department.
Bob Fuscaldo, King George's at-large supervisor from 1996 to 2003, also said at the meeting he was bothered that the county hadn't addressed any of the "shortcomings and shortfalls."
"There a pall of silence over the report," said Fuscaldo, the former commander at the Navy base in Dahlgren.
Until Wednesday, supervisors said they were waiting for a strategic plan by Fire and Rescue Chief David Moody. That report was supposed to be presented after this year's budget was finalized.
When asked by residents at Brabo's meeting why he hadn't requested more staff, Moody said he and other department heads were told to keep their budgets at level funding.
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry said that was true. But department heads also were told to bring up any legitimate needs they have, he said Wednesday night.
Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr. wondered if employees got the message.
"Some folks may have been gun-shy about bringing an increase," he said.
"That's their problem," Grzeika added.
Quesenberry told supervisors that Moody considered the Fairview Beach department his biggest need. That's the station that hasn't been able to respond to more than 90 percent of its calls, Volunteer Chief Ted Lovell said last month.
To put three workers at Fairview Beach five days a week, 10 hours a day, would cost $210,000 a year, Quesenberry said.
To provide a 24-hour shift seven days a week would take twice the people and money, he added.
Grzeika said he wasn't sure he wanted the new hires to be stationed at Fairview Beach, a building that's in dire need of upgrading. Quesenberry said that's what Moody requested.
The supervisors decided to have another work session--6 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Revercomb Administration Center--and have Moody and Sheriff Steve Dempsey attend.
Dempsey wants to promote two animal-control officers from part time to full time, which would cost $40,000.
Money for those upgrades hasn't been allocated.
Supervisors also talked about future satellite offices for the fire and rescue department. The county owns land in both the King George Industrial Park and the old auto auction on U.S. 301, and neither place has fire stations nearby, supervisors said.
"The biggest obstacle is property, and we have it," Grzeika said.
On Tuesday, the supervisors also will try to pin down if they can afford three new fire and rescue workers--or two--and where the money would come from.
Board members said Wednesday that they expect an additional $400,000 from the state for school funding. The county could add $250,000 of that to what Quesenberry already proposed for schools to fully fund the school budget, Sisson said.
That would leave $150,000, which would cover two positions, Sisson said.
Brabo reminded the board that a 4-cent increase, which she advocated, would cover three new positions and at least one of Dempsey's upgrades.
Quesenberry's current budget calls for a 3-cent increase, although the board can add another penny to the current tax rate of 50 cents per $100 assessed value.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
King George supervisors and School Board members spent 30 minutes talking about the school budget Wednesday night, and members of both boards seemed satisfied.
Initially, the School Board asked for $4 million more in local funding than the current year. Then they put off getting new computers and books, reduced some staff hours and opted to pay part, instead of all, of the mandated increases in the Virginia Retirement System.
The adjustments brought the school request to $34.2 million.
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry allocated $33.9 million for schools, a difference of almost $300,000.
Supervisors said they expect another $400,000 from the state for school funding. They suggested giving the schools enough to meet their request and using the rest on other county needs.
School Board members asked if they could have the whole chunk of extra state money.
"If we get what we asked for, we can work with it," Richard Randall said. "If we get more because of the state allocation, we can certainly make a case for it, but every department in the county can make a case for it, too."