As fire departments struggle to raise money, the Public Safety Committee recently recommended that the county double its annual $400,000 contribution to the Culpeper County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association for capital improvement projects, which is any expense exceeding $10,000.

It is ultimately a matter up to the Board of Supervisors during budget discussions regarding the next fiscal year. If approved by the board, the increased contributions will not take effect until July 2021.

The county’s $400,000 annual contribution is equally distributed to the eight fire departments in $50,000 disbursements, which County Administrator John Egertson noted is “not much, but that is what we have been able to give.”

Beyond the county’s small contribution, volunteer fire departments rely on fundraising events for capital purchases. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, has halted many fundraising efforts and departments are struggling to secure donations.

For the last four years, the county also set aside $200,000 annually for capital improvement projects. That money, now totaling $800,000, is sitting in a bank account and has not been used. The county also provides operational funding for the fire departments, which totaled $1.9 million this year.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Safety Committee member Sheriff Scott Jenkins noted that volunteers put themselves and families at risk for no pay without knowing how contagious the virus may be.

Jenkins said “you can’t say enough about that” and “I can’t thank you enough for what you do.”

With all of the lost income sources stemming from the inability to hold fundraising events, Jenkins said now is the time to “cut loose” the money that has been set aside for volunteers.

Committee member and Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal agreed that volunteers should use that money.

“If you're an individual and you’re old and you have a rainy day fund, all the sudden you’re dead and you haven’t used your rainy day fund,” he said.

Jenkins motioned that the committee recommends doubling the county’s $400,000 annual contribution for capital projects while also continuing to set aside $200,000 annually.

Regarding the $800,000 set aside over the last four years, the committee agreed it is time to release that money pending consultation with the volunteer association.

Committee member and Supervisor Paul Bates noted that money contributed toward the volunteer departments pales in comparison to costs of having career departments.

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