When a rural community straddles a county line, that divider may seem to have little bearing on everyday life, but it has become an issue for Pittsylvania and Franklin counties, the Penhook community, and the Cool Branch Fire and Volunteer Rescue Squads.
After months of negotiations and years of discussion, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors has issued a Dec. 1 deadline to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors to come to an agreement regarding funding of the two agencies.
Both the fire and EMS services sit just inside Pittsylvania County, not far from the county line, side by side on Smith Mountain Road. They provide service in both counties, yet a majority — over 60 percent — of their calls are to Franklin County.
At issue is the funding, of which Pittyslvania County officials say they have borne the majority, disproportionately to the service. According to a resolution from the Pittsylvania supervisors, they have funded the agencies to the tune of $1.2 million since 2011, while in that same period, Franklin County provided $200,000.
With 16 months of negotiations — and earlier deadlines that Pittsylvania supervisors set and extended twice — failing to produce an agreement, they set the Dec. 1 deadline. The resolution included three different proposed options for solving the funding disparity.
1. Adjust the county boundaries so that Pittsylvania County annexes the portion of Franklin County covered by the Cool Branch emergency agencies.
2. Franklin County could provide $40,000 annually to help fund the agencies and reimburse half of the capital costs of future equipment purchases.
3. A third option would be for Franklin County to pay Pittsylvania County for each service call the Cool Branch departments make across county lines.
If the Franklin County supervisors do not reach an agreement with their Pittsylvania County counterparts, it would result in a suspension of fire and EMS services from Cool Branch to Franklin County. Various county officials and supervisors from Pittsylvania County expressed their hope that an agreement could be reached and their hope that service would not have to be cut off.
Chief Daniel Matherly of the Cool Branch Fire Department has been quoted as stating, “We definitely don’t want to stop serving our community. It just happens that our community is split by a county line.”
Ben Farmer, supervisor of the Callands-Gretna District in Pittsylvania County, pointed out that the second proposal of $40,000 per year would mean only doubling Franklin County’s current contributions of $20,000.
“Their hearts have never wavered, it’s all about the citizens,” Farmer has been quoted commenting about the rescue personnel. “Their station make-up is made up of both Pittsylvania County and Franklin County volunteers. Making sure their volunteers and staff numbers remain strong is key to them.”
He added, “To them, they don’t see boundary lines. When they get a call, they go help who’s in need.”
The supervisor explained that at issue is financial responsibility to the taxpayers of Pittsylvania County.
“We’re just trying to be good stewards for our citizens while at the same time being very cordial with our neighbors because you are talking about a very serious matter in terms of fire and EMS coverage,” he said.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors’ agenda for its Nov. 17 meeting included a “request for a closed session … [for] discussion of the terms of a public contract, where discussion in public would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the County in regards to a potential boundary adjustment with a neighboring county.” That meeting took place after the Smith Mountain Eagle went to press.
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