Agency's attorney: Shenandoah supervisors don't have the authority to forcibly disband it
By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- The Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad plans to fight its dissolution by the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors.
With a 6-0 vote Tuesday morning, the supervisors ended the squad's 45-year existence, at least in the board's eyes.
Lagging and failed response times have led to the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue providing 24-hour coverage in Strasburg since summer 2007.
While the Board of Supervisors and the county department have cited numerous attempts to address the coverage issue, rescue squad volunteers have accused county leaders of keeping them in the dark and railroading them.
"Shenandoah County fire and rescue has not been on our side," the rescue squad's secretary, Brenda Beeler, said Tuesday. "Neither has the board of supervisors. Everything that has been done to us has been done behind our backs."
As a private organization, the squad can't be shut down by the county, according to its president, Gary Dalton.
"You've been back-stabbing, blaming and not coming to us, and I don't know why," he said.
The squad is a non-stock Virginia corporation, according to a news release issued Thursday by attorney Doug Arthur, who is representing the squad. It says the supervisors don't have the authority to dissolve the squad.
While the squad says it cannot be forcibly disbanded, its members cannot respond to emergencies as squad representatives. The state's Office of Emergency Medical Services picked up the department's license and its vehicle permits on Wednesday, said Michael Berg, regulation and compliance manager for the office.
Personnel certifications weren't affected, though, he said.
A complaint was filed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court Tuesday by County Attorney Donald Litten on the supervisors' behalf, asking that a receiver be appointed for the rescue squad's assets and for those assets to be turned over to the county to be used in providing emergency medical service.
The county's complaint also asks for a temporary injunction keeping the squad from transferring any assets before a receiver is appointed, and requiring the squad to account for any payments or asset transfers since Tuesday's dissolution.
"This lawsuit was filed despite there being no allegation or even a hint of financial impropriety on the part of the Rescue Squad," Arthur's release says.
The county doesn't think there have been any financial irregularities, Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew said Thursday.
District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley said during Tuesday's supervisors meeting that the panel noticed a discrepancy in February between the liability and insurance bills for Strasburg Rescue Squad and those for other agencies.
Mt. Jackson's bill for 29 volunteers was $4,000, Helsley said, while Woodstock has 30 volunteers and had bill a little bit higher. Strasburg's bill, which was for 43 volunteers, was $8,000, he said.
Helsley said the supervisors went back to the rescue squad's chief, John Nixon, and pointed out that the county has paid staff covering Woodstock and Mt. Jackson 50 hours a week with fewer volunteers picking up the rest of the time.
He said he received an e-mail from Nixon a few weeks later amending the number of volunteers making calls to 22. Helsley said a list of those 22 people was requested and never received.
The board wasn't happy about the high bill for an agency responding to so many fewer calls than Woodstock and Mt. Jackson, but approved it anyway, Helsley said.
"That's certainly a concern if a company lists 40 or 50 volunteers, the county government's concern is are we getting our money's worth," Yew said Thursday.
He said that the county still hasn't received that roster from the squad. He said the insurance bills are paid annually, and Strasburg had just had an audit and a rate increase, which is partly why its cost was higher.
County officials "never suspected" money was being mishandled by the squad, Yew said.
While the county doesn't have the power to get rid of the squad, Arthur's release says, it is within its power to "provide for emergency services for any part of the County in addition to the existing Rescue Squad."
His release opens the door to open communication between volunteers and county leaders.
"The continuing role of volunteer rescue squads in general, and the Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad specifically, in providing emergency services may be valid questions, which should be debated fairly in a forum open to all interested parties, including members of the community," it says. "The Rescue Squad stands ready to discuss these matters with County representatives, or others, but to do so openly, without attempt at dissolution proceedings and injunctive orders which impugn the reputation of this fine service organization."
- PDF: Court document - Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors vs. Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad
- PDF: Resolution to dissolve the rescue squad
- PDF: 2007 action plan
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