WINNSBORO — A proposal to compensate volunteer firefighters prompted discussion about the way county council conducts its business in general during its January meeting.
County Administrator Phil Hinely brought forth a proposal for the county to compensate volunteer firefighters for their service just as volunteer EMS workers are compensated at a rate of $25 per call. The idea is not for them to make money off being a volunteer but to keep them from losing money by volunteering for the county.
While agreeing with the need to compensate volunteer first responders, Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson requested the issued be table until a later meeting. She also made a motion that a full economic impact report be given.
“We need to know which fund it is coming from. Will it be an additional tax to the taxpayers? I have no problem with the concept, but before we vote I’d like to know the fiscal impact,” she said.
Since money already set aside for the program would fund this more formal version, Hinely said there would be no discernible economic impact on the county from the change.
“We already have an informal reimbursement program which is really not a good program. This really puts this into perspective. There is money in the budget. Adding the rescue squad is what we are doing here,” Hinely said. “We have already done this for firemen and even at that there was no impact on the budget. Even with the rescue squad there is a minimal cost.”
Robinson requested clarification on the issue.
“But if everyone gets a certification and moves up, I have no idea how many folks we are talking about, it could have an economic impact on our budget,” she said. “And I would like to see that. I am to the point that I think we need, any time money is discussed, that an economic impact needs to come with it. Because it is getting to the place that we are using a lot of our fund balance and other things and we just need to always know what kind of money we are talking about,” she said.
She made a motion the matter be taken up at the next meeting so that in the interim the members of council could gather more information.
“Because every time we turn around there is something thrown at us with no input (from us) that we then have to vote upon,” she said. “And if that is the case, why am I sitting here and why was I elected?”
Councilman David Brown and Robinson voted in favor of postponing the matter to next meeting as did Kamau Marcharia. Mary Lynn Kinley, Dwayne Perry, Mikel Trapp and Ferguson voted against postponing the matter, so Robinson’s motion did not carry. When put to a vote, the motion that the reimbursement be accepted that night carried.
County Coroner Barkley Ramsey said there currently are 30 rescue squad volunteers and there is talk of capping the number of volunteers at 35.
More than half of them also serve as firemen. They will not be compensated twice for attending the same meeting as a rescue squad member and as a fireman or for responding to a call in a dual role. Hinely said he did not see the reimbursement going up any time soon and mentioned a monthly cap could be placed on each member no matter how much training they receive per month.
“Training is what council is trying to get people to do because that is a lot cheaper than paid firemen,” Hinely said.