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Fire departments ask for funds

Walt Bailey

The Charlotte County Fire and Rescue Association relies on donations and fundraising activities to fund approximately 20% of the department’s budget each year. With fundraisers now canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s fire departments are faced with a grim outlook.

According to Association President Walt Bailey, the months of April and May are historically when fire departments hold fundraisers such as stews, chicken dinners, boot drives, or send out donation letters.

With social distancing and stay-at-home mandates in effect, those types of fundraisers cannot be held.

“We are losing up to 20% of income due to not fundraising, and we don’t know when we can start again or if people will be able to support us as they have in the past,” Bailey said.

According to Bailey, that percentage loss equates to about $5,000 for each department in the county.

On behalf of the association, Bailey reached out to the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors (BOS) to request additional funding.

“We understand as in every year times are tight so we’re not asking for an increase, but we just want the roughly $36,000 originally setup as capital fund restored,” Bailey wrote in an email to County Administrator Dan Witt and other members of the board of supervisors. “Due to our ongoing expenses, we would like that fund equally divided between the seven departments.”

During its April 13 meeting, BOS members briefly touched on the request but made no decision.

“We cut their budget last year,” Wylliesburg/Red Oak Supervisor Kay Pierantoni said. “We need to thank them and see if we can find the money. Where would we be in this county without our volunteer fire departments?”

According to Witt, in 2018, each fire department received county funding in the amount of $45,000, plus each department received an additional $25,000 for protective equipment.

In 2019 each fire department received a contribution of $50,000, plus each department received an additional $5,169.71 to dispense funds equally from some capital funds that had been set aside for fire departments.

In 2020 each fire department received a contribution of $50,000.

The $5,000 in reduction for 2020 is what Bailey says the association is now seeking for 2021. In addition, Bailey says the association is seeking an immediate appropriation of $5,000 for each department to combat the fundraising loss.

Bailey said that about three weeks ago, fire departments were notified they could apply and possibly receive up to $10,000 in funding as part of the CARES act.

“We were very hopeful about this funding,” Bailey said. “We recently learned that no fire department in the state of Virginia has been able to secure those funds.”

The funding available not only opened up applications for fire departments but any 501 (c) (3) organization.

Phenix/Aspen Supervisor Donna Fore expressed her support for the county fire departments and moved to have her BOS salary for the remainder of the year given to the fire association.

“I cannot in good conscience take from fire and rescue personnel who are putting their lives on the line right now literally with this virus,” Fore said. “I think it is more important that they have those funds than me.”

According to Witt, Fore’s annual salary is $6,000. He has instructed her that the county needs to pay her, and then she is free to donate the funds to whatever agency she prefers.

Bailey addressed the BOS on Monday, April 20 during their budget hearing to once again ask for funding.

“We are thankful for every penny we get,” Bailey said. “But, right now, we are fighting for our survival.”

No decision on the funding was made.