York County’s top administrator is proposing at least two – and possibly up to eight – new firefighters join the ranks of county’s emergency services.
The new department additions would alleviate an ongoing staffing issue, which has forced the county’s current fire and life safety personnel to work hundreds of mandatory overtime hours over the past year.
Over 20 York County Fire & Life Safety personnel crowded into half of York Hall’s Board Room Tuesday night, wearing bright red firefighter’s union jackets, as County Administrator Neil Morgan proposed the county’s fiscal year 2018 budget.
Although six of the eight proposed new firefighter positions hinge on a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, the budget allocates county funds to hire at least two new firefighters, Morgan said.
“Enhancing public safety is a major priority of the Board and county administration,” Morgan said while presenting the budget.
If all eight firefighters are hired in fiscal year 2018, which starts July 1, the county’s Fire & life Safety crew would grow to 134 firefighters. The budget also includes funds for two additional sheriff’s deputies and emergency communications personnel, Morgan said.
York County administrators applied for a FEMA grant to fund six additional Fire & Life Safety positions in January, Fire Chief Stephen Kopczynski told WYDaily in February. The county has not yet heard whether they will receive the grant or not.
The grant requires a $150,000 match, however, which Morgan included in the proposed budget. The grant can be allocated toward Fire & Life Safety even if the county is not awarded the grant, Morgan said.
“Mr. Morgan, in the presentation, talked about our strategic priorities,” District 5 Supervisor Thomas Shepperd, Jr said of the budget. “This has percolated for a long period of time. We take those priorities and put numbers to them.”
Morgan also recommended enhancing employer contributions to Fire & Life Safety personnel’s Virginia Retirement System plans. The increase would put York County’s contribution to firefighter’s retirement plans on the same level as Williamsburg, Newport News and Poquoson – helping to retain staff.
“This would be an excellent way to recruit and retain our key public safety personnel,” Morgan said.
The county’s proposed capital improvement plan also includes replacing the Grafton Fire Station.
To deliver necessary services to York County’s citizens, including education and public safety, Morgan said a tax increase is necessary. York County Administrator Neil Morgan proposed a $6.3 million increase to the county’s fiscal year 2018 budget, bringing the budget total up to $201.6 million.
The proposed tax rate would increase 4.35 cents, from 75.15 cents to 79.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
The tax increase would generate $5.2 million additional revenue in the county, but would only increase homeowner’s tax bills by about $11 per month if their homes were valued around $300,000, he said.
“We don’t want to push [the tax rate] any more than we have to to deliver the services we need,” Morgan said.
“We’ve held the line on taxes,” District 1 Supervisor Walter Zaremba said. “The tax rate still shows up as the smallest tax rate for real estate on the Peninsula, except for Williamsburg, which is a special case.”
Supervisors emphasized that the budget is not in its final form, and said citizen input is integral to the budget process.
“You have got to get involved,” Zaremba said.