In a packed cafeteria at Stony Point Elementary on Monday evening, community members questioned a proposal to move daytime fire-rescue staff farther away from northeast Albemarle County.
As part of County Executive Jeff Richardson’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, Albemarle County Fire Rescue would reallocate weekday, daytime fire-rescue staff from Stony Point Volunteer Fire Company and East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company to the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department and Pantops Public Safety Station to meet system-wide response time standards and call volume.
Volunteers would still staff the Stony Point, East Rivanna and Crozet stations on nights, weekends and holidays.
The reallocation was proposed in response to a request by the Crozet department to ACFR to provide supplemental weekday, daytime staffing.
During the two-hour meeting, dozens of residents questioned county staff and Albemarle Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley about the proposal, and expressed concerns about treating the rural area different than the county’s development areas; response times in general; planning for increased population; and coverage for students at Stony Point Elementary.
ACFR Chief Dan Eggleston said the Stony Point station had 315 calls in 2019, and 124 of those were during the day.
“Although it’s a very painful issue and one that I don’t take lightly, it makes sense for us to reevaluate how we distribute these personnel in order to be the most efficient,” he said.
Adding five positions would cost about $428,255, according to Albemarle budget documents.
LaPisto Kirtley, who represents the area, said she is in favor of keeping daytime career staff at Stony Point, but that she needs support from three other supervisors.
“I think the direction the county is moving in over the years will be fully paid staff,” she said. “Although, I want you to know that I value our volunteer staff. We want to keep our volunteer staff as long as we can; we want to support them as much as we can. But I think as Albemarle develops we’re going to be going more toward fulfilling empty spaces with with paid staff.”
LaPisto Kirtley last week proposed advertising a 0.2-cent real estate tax rate increase, to 85.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, to be dedicated to general government to hire additional firefighters, but other supervisors were not in favor.
Many people speaking Monday were upset about the response time goals.
In 2019, the county updated the response time goals to eight minutes in the development areas and 21 minutes in the rural areas, both at 90% of the time instead of an average.
Prior to the change last year, the response time was based on an average of five minutes or less in the development areas and 13 minutes or less in the rural areas for fire calls, and four minutes or less in the development areas and 13 minutes or less in the rural areas for rescue calls.
One man said that Stony Point has had difficulty in getting enough volunteers to staff the night shift.
“We just don’t have people around,” he said. “Crozet is a big community, growing in fact, much more concise than we are, people living close by. Presumably they could have plenty of potential volunteers. The answer I hear is we give them even more professional people than they already have, and take them away from this community where we really need them.”
A former chief at Stony Point said that because of demands on people today in the increasing populations in the dense areas, he’s not surprised that Pantops and Crozet need paid staff.
“Well, I would have thought that the county executive and the planning department would have been seeing that, and planning for career staff,” he said “… I’d like the county executive, Ms. LaPisto Kirtley or the Board of Supervisors to tell me that my family or my property or any of these other people’s property is not as valuable as Crozet or Pantops.”
Megan Carper, president of the Stony Point Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, said it currently takes about two minutes for fire-rescue staff to get to the school, and moving staff would increase that time to more than 20 minutes.
“I’m a parent of a second-grader, and safety is a high priority to me, and to other parents at our school,” Carper said. “At a time when school safety is an important issue for people across the U.S., this proposal would make our children much, much less safe.”
“We’re not asking for special treatment; we’re asking for the same treatment as every other school,” she said.
Others at the meeting suggested ending the county’s revenue-sharing agreement with the city of Charlottesville and use that funding to pay for fire-rescue staff. The revenue-sharing agreement was approved in 1982 in a deal to prevent the city from annexing valuable county land, requiring the county to share some of the revenue generated by that land with Charlottesville. In the proposed FY21 budget, Albemarle County is paying the city $14,589,313.
When asked if this was a “done deal,” Eggleston did not comment and Richardson said it would be decided in the budget process, which is ongoing.
“This is not in any way a done deal,” Richardson said. “The budget process is well underway. I have recommended the budget. The board has heard the recommendations and they are having budget work sessions this week and next week.”
The Board of Supervisors is holding a public hearing on the budget from 6 to 8 p.m. April 13.
Community members can also can speak about budget topics at general public comment at 1 and 6 p.m. at the board’s meeting March 18.