Emergency vehicles sharing space makes sense

Published 9:45 am Friday, March 30, 2012

by JoAnn Hall

As we dive headfirst into the budget process for fiscal 2012-13, I want to clarify my position on a couple of what I consider to be very important issues.

The first subject is the proposed new $5.4 million building for the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad. First of all, I appreciate all of the hard work and excellent service provided by the rescue volunteers, and I believe they do need new headquarters as was promised to them nearly a decade ago.

As a steward of taxpayer dollars, however, I feel it is incumbent that I look out for the best interest of all of the citizens of our county. If there is a possibility that we could save $2 million or more by expanding the new Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department, then why wouldn’t any prudent leader look into that option before proceeding headfirst into building what is turning out to be a very expensive standalone building on Great Springs Road.

While our county is certainly in stable financial standing, our revenues have not increased and our ability to borrow money for new projects is limited, and we will soon reach our legal debt limit.

Isn’t now the time to take a hard look at uniting the two emergency service agencies that serve the Smithfield area and exploring potential cost-savings by shared services and equipment. Not only is the possibility there to save money, but by locating the two agencies in adjacent buildings, wouldn’t there be opportunities to improve service and response time to our citizens.

Isn’t it incumbent upon the Board of Supervisors to look at all of these angles? I believe that it is.

One of the arguments against looking at a combined fire and rescue building is that the rescue squad has waited long enough and members deserve a new building as soon as possible. I wholeheartedly agree! But after waiting nearly a decade, would a few more weeks or months really matter if it resulted in saving money and improving services?

The second issue I want to address involves budget funding for Isle of Wight County Schools. I fervently support our school system — I have two daughters who attend Smithfield High School ¬— and I think our schools are some of the best in the state.

But in an economic recession and on the heels of a huge loss in revenues from International Paper, the School Board is asking for an increase of more than $5 million in local funding. This equates to about a 12-cent hike in the real estate tax rate. How much of that extra $5 million would go into the classroom?

If you read the daily papers, you know that school systems all over Hampton Roads are suffering cutbacks, laying off employees, cutting programs, instituting new fees, and in some cases, closing schools. They are also coming up with innovative new ways to support and encourage the successful programs they have without additional dollars.

Schools everywhere are meeting the challenge of budget cuts from the state and federal government and the end of stimulus money that propped up budgets over the past few years.

I can only speak for myself, but I see no way that the Board of Supervisors can come up with an extra $5 million for the schools without a tax increase, which I will never support on the heels of last year’s huge increase. In fact, I think we will be lucky if we can find a way to provide level funding, the same local contribution as last year.

Wouldn’t it be encouraging to see our school officials rallying to find economies, coming up with creative solutions to fill the gaps and support teachers and instructional programs in the classrooms. That is the kind of budget that I could support, as opposed to one focused on reorganizing administrators and increasing compensation for top-level administration.

Isle of Wight County has a lot of great things going on and I want to continue to be forward thinking as we move into the future. But we are still in a recession and sometimes we have to be patient as we wait for the better days ahead.

I try always to vote with a level head and a clear conscience, and for the good of all the citizens who live in this county. I’m always interested in your views as well. Thank you for listening.

JOANN W. HALL is the Hardy District Supervisor for Isle of Wight County and can be reached at joannhall@charter.net.