Among the issues county officials expect to tackle in 2014 is taking a closer look at the long-term viability and funding of Rappahannock County’s volunteer fire and rescue companies, according to county administrator John McCarthy.
Also coming up in 2014: The closing of the county jail — by the July 1 opening of the new Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Jail in Front Royal, the new 375-bed regional facility that will house prisoners from three counties — and the resulting loss of at least a half-dozen deputies now on jail duty at the Sheriff’s Office, and other changes.
In addition, as McCarthy pointed out in a brief interview last week, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be replacing at least three bridges in Rappahannock, taking advantage of a construction budget at least temporarily boosted by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2013 transportation-funding increases.
McCarthy said that the supervisors, working with him and emergency services coordinator Richie Burke, as well as members of the county’s volunteer fire and rescue association, have begun informal discussions about the future of Rappahannock’s all-volunteer emergency services.
While some new funding has been made available to the county’s seven fire and rescue companies with this fall’s implementation of a program that allows the county to bill health-insurance carriers for most ambulance trips, the county’s aging population and each company’s ever-challenging fundraising efforts require some sort of rethinking of the process, McCarthy said.
“We have seven volunteer fire and rescue departments in a county of 7,000 people,” he said. “None of our neighboring jurisdictions are doing it that way.”
Possible solutions under discussion, he said, include consolidation and (as the supervisors have talked about at several of their 2013 meetings) the possibility of a number of paid emergency personnel. Look for the supervisors to seek the advice of a consultant who has managed similar transitions.
Though the sheriff’s office will lose at least six or more officers (most of whom are expected to apply for positions — better-paying positions — at the new jail), the effect on the county budget will, in the longer term, be offset by the county’s share of paying down the loans required to build the facility.
A new position — transport officer — will be created, McCarthy said, most likely a part-time, on-call position for transporting prisoners to Front Royal during times when only one patrol deputy is on duty (which is most overnight shifts).
Bridges VDOT is likely to replace — requiring detours of three to six weeks — include the bridge over the Rush River on Fodderstack Road, which will require the longest detour for the largest number of drivers; the Tiger Valley Road bridge over the Rush that’s just a few hundred yards from U.S. 211; and a third Harris Hollow bridge (two other Harris Hollow bridges having been updated in the last three years).
“Most likely, they will all be during the summer months, as we always ask, to lessen the impact on school bus routes,” McCarthy said.