Does county lack sufficient oversight of fire and rescue expenditures?

One fire levy board member a no-show since 2015

Concerned about fiscal oversight of seven taxpayer funded volunteer fire and rescue companies in Rappahannock County, a Board of Zoning Appeals member has called on the county government to “reconfigure” the Rappahannock County Fire Levy Board with citizens unaffiliated with fire houses.

“When that [fire levy] board was put in,” BZA member Ron Makela reminded the county’s five supervisors and administrator Garrey W. Curry, “that was the assurance to the citizens, [that spending of tax dollars] was going to be looked at and monitored and if there were expenses that were questionable or not appropriate they were going to be brought up and discussed.”

That’s not happening, argued Makela, who spent 14 years outside the county as a professional firefighter and EMT, retiring as captain.

Rather than an independent fire levy board, as he said was the original intention of the county, “what you ended up for the most part since the fire levy tax went [into effect] is a board of fire department members who are voting on these expenses.

“That’s not what was put forth when that board was established, and the board needs to be reconfigured so there are private citizens that look at these expenses, which we [county taxpayers] are paying 100 percent of now, and if they’re not appropriate something is said or questions are asked.”

The county official noted that the board convenes on average for one hour twice a year, and there is no record of anybody examining expenses and asking questions. Citing fire levy meeting minutes, he pointed out one fire levy board member, Joe Hall of the Wakefield district, had “not attended a meeting since July of 2015.”

“That position should be filled with someone who is willing to attend meetings,” said Makela. “The work is important, and they need to come to the meetings and do the work.”

He said questions should have been posed, if not red flags raised when Washington Fire and Rescue spent almost $12,500 for propane during a six month period ending in June 2018 when the Amissville company, similar in operational scope to Washington, spent one-third of that amount.

“That amounts to . . . 4500 gallons of propane in six months,” he said. “Nobody noticed that? Nobody thought to ask a question?”

“The board missed some really big numbers here,” said Makela, pointing out that total propane costs for all seven companies during the period was just over $26,000.

In addition, Flint Hill Volunteer Fire Company, the smallest fire house in the county, which like other departments is struggling of late to enlist volunteers, spent more than $3,100 for hotel lodging during the same six month period. Training-related hotel costs for Amissville and Sperryville were far less — $704 and $295 respectively — while no lodging reimbursement was requested by remaining companies.

“In going through the numbers of this particular company for the last year and a half, their lodging costs were $10,000. This is the smallest company in the county. They’re struggling, I know that,” Makela offered. “They’re on the verge of going under, yet they can spend $10,000 in a year and a half for lodging. That needs to be looked at. That question needs to be asked. The other companies aren’t anywhere close to that — they’re in the hundreds.”

It’s important, he said, “because it’s our tax dollars.”

About John McCaslin 288 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.

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