Shenandoah County supervisors passed an amendment to the budget on Tuesday evening and, in doing so, took action to address staffing concerns within the county’s fire and rescue department.
Among the countywide staffing changes reflected in the budget amendment, which totals $1.1 million, are 14 additional paid positions in the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue that will take effect in January. Those positions include three shift commanders, five additional personnel at Mount Jackson Fire and Rescue, four additional personnel for the county’s roaming peak-volume unit and two additional personnel at the Conicville Volunteer Fire Department.
County Administrator Evan Vass stated during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the staffing additions would allow the Mount Jackson and Conicville stations and the peak-volume unit, a stationless unit that provides EMS support throughout the county, to operate with career staff 24-7.
Conicville is now staffed by paid personnel 24 hours per day, five days per week. Mount Jackson has paid staff only during the daytime hours (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) five days per week, and the peak-volume unit operates only during the daytime hours on weekdays.
In August, county Fire Chief Tim Williams gave a presentation to the Board of Supervisors detailing a staffing shortage that has led to a high volume of missed calls for emergency services. During that presentation, Williams asked that 14 additional paid staff members be added to the county’s fire and rescue ranks.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Steven Baker (District 2), citing a recent incident in which he said Mount Jackson was able to respond to a call, though Conicville wasn’t, of a child going into cardiac arrest, suggested after the budget amendment was passed that the county look into adding an extra weekend unit that could be stationed between Mount Jackson and Conicville to help “pick up that void” until January.
Other staffing changes reflected in the budget amendment include bringing the county’s Office of Community Development back up to strength with the reinstatement of a community development director, three building inspectors, a building code official and a deputy building code official, Vass said.
“Most of these positions, by the way, were FY21 requests and we didn’t know in April 2020 (when the budget was adopted) what COVID was going to do,” Vass told supervisors. “… It certainly hasn’t slowed the building department.”
Staffing changes accounted for more than half of the $1.1 million in the budget amendment, with $518,000 designated for fire and rescue, $40,949 for community development, $39,073 for building inspections and $22,469 to the voter registrar (to increase the assistant registrar to a full-time position).
The budget amendment also reflects $550,000 that the county recently received in the form of Community Development Block Grant funds designated for small-business recovery in response to COVID-19.
Though the amendment included no immediate change in tax rates, Supervisor Karl Roulston (District 4) warned that such action could be on the horizon in order for the county to fund the increase in fire and rescue personnel.
“We get (the money) somewhere or we raise taxes, one or the other,” he said.
Chairman Dick Neese (District 1) and fellow supervisors Baker, Brad Pollack (District 3), Roulston, Dennis Morris (District 5) and Tim Taylor (District 6) attended Tuesday's meeting.