Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Upon taking office two years ago, the current Goochland Board of Supervisors set about fulfilling campaign promises to concentrate on delivery of core services. These are: law enforcement, fire-rescue, education, and social services.
Only the Sheriff’s Office and Fire-Rescue serve all citizens, not just select constituencies.
In the next few years, several hundred new single family homes—not counting the approximately 300 apartments under construction near Rt. 288—will bring more people and cars to Goochland. The newcomers will bring with them high expectations about delivery of governmental services. The self-reliance that is a cherished part of rural character will fade into history.
Ensuring adequate law enforcement and fire-rescue for Goochland protects citizens and is a vital part of economic development. Businesses want to operate in places that are safe for their employees and customers.
On February 4, the supervisors discussed budget requests with Sheriff James L. Agnew and Fire-Rescue Chief William MacKay. (See part c of the board packet for February 4 on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us for details.)
Both agencies have excellent reputations and are highly regarded throughout the Commonwealth by their peers.
The Goochland County Sheriff’s Office—which has been an accredited agency, (see http://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/accred/overview.cfm)since 1999 by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services—patrols the entire county around the clock every day of the year; provides security and prisoner transport for all Goochland Courts; handles traffic incidents on all roads except Interstate 64 and Rt. 288; and ensures the safety of the citizens. It is on duty 24/7 every day of the year. (For additional information go to www.goochlandsheriff.org)
Violent crime, Agnew said, was down during 2013. Arrests declined by 25 percent and traffic related incidents rose 10 percent. Burglary is still the most frequent crime and traffic offenses including speeding and DUI are increasing. He contended that the westbound Rt. 288/Broad Street Road interchange is the most frequent site of accidents in the county, characterizing it as “a horrible intersection.” (Are you listening VDOT?)
Agnew’s fiscal focus is manpower and vehicles. His proposed budget includes the cost of four additional deputy positions to add one deputy per shift and an additional dispatcher.
Currently, said Agnew, four newly hired deputies are attending the Rappahannock Regional Law Enforcement Academy, bringing the total to 33. “The department is fully staffed “for the first time in recent memory.” It takes 39 weeks from hiring until those deputies are “turned loose” to patrol on their own. The four requested additional deputies would increase the safety factor for both the citizens and other deputies, who must be assured that they have back up while patrolling solo.
The cost of equipping a new deputy is quite high and includes everything from shoulder patches to firearms, cars and computers. New hires must sign a contract for a two year commitment with Goochland upon employment.
While things were quiet when Agnew presented his budget requests, a few days later, the body of Keven Quick was discovered in western Goochland. Several people were soon arrested in connection with the crime, which will be adjudicated in Goochland. This will mean lots of prisoner transport activity for the Sheriff’s Office in fiscal 2015.
MacKay began his remarks with the good news that no Goochland citizens or responders were killed or injured in fires during 2013. Firefighters know that the best fire is one that never gets started.
He explained the high cost of protective clothing that permits firefighters to do their job safely. The nature of current building materials makes the smoke of even a house fire a toxic miasma of hazardous chemicals.
As emergency medical services (EMS) comprise more than 70 percent of fire-rescue call activity, which often includes transport to a hospital either in Richmond or Charlottesville, ambulances rack up mileage quickly. Replacement cost is in the neighborhood of $250,000 each. Unlike the early days of EMS, when local hearses were sometimes used for hospital transport, modern ambulances—when staffed by well-trained crews—save lives every day.
In Goochland, fire-rescue is inevitably morphing from a volunteer organization to a paid one. This is an expensive proposition. As the mandatory training becomes more rigorous and required duty hours rise, fewer residents are willing or able to make the time commitment to become a volunteer. Goochland is blessed with a dedicated corps of fire-rescue volunteers who give tirelessly of their time and skills to save lives and protect property. There just aren’t enough to keep up with increased demands for service. New residents have little interest in volunteering, yet expect instantaneous response when they dial 911.
In the past few years, the county hired paid providers to supplement coverage shortfalls, especially for daytime weekdays. Each year that number rises. Last year, the county put a cost recovery program in place that bills medical insurance for ambulances transport. So far, said MacKay, cost recovery revenues are meeting expectations. Volunteer EMS hours declined across the board in 2013, a further indication of the need to bolster paid staff, funded by cost recovery.
A significant item in MacKay’s budget request is funding for three 24/7 paid ambulance crews to supplement volunteer staffing, which, according to EMS volunteer hour statistics included in his presentation, seem to indicate more sporadic volunteer coverage.
Unlike deputies, who need to be trained, fire-rescue providers must be fully trained and certified at time of employment. Each year, Goochland Fire-Rescue offers training classes for firefighters and emergency medical technicians that are free to county volunteers.
As the supervisors pore over the details of these departmental budgets, they must be mindful of the big picture and make sure that these agencies are adequately funded. A safe and secure environment is vital for the success of all enterprises in a community.