On May 1, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier convened a workgroup tasked by the General Assembly to examine existing fire service needs, analyze sustainability of current funding, and review alternative funding models from other states. VACo had previously requested to be a part of the workgroup and VACo staff participated in the meeting. Many localities are currently struggling to maintain staffing for both salaried and volunteer fire and emergency medical services (EMS) and adequate funding for these programs.
The workgroup was authorized by the enactment of HB 2175 (Sickles), which was enacted by the 2023 General Assembly unanimously. VACo supported this effort. Besides directing the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a workgroup with various representatives of relevant state agencies and stakeholder groups, the legislation states that the workgroup is:
“To study existing fire service needs, analyze sustainability of current funding, and review alternative funding models from other states. The work group may hire an outside consultant and shall create a needs assessment survey that analyzes existing fire service needs, the sustainability of current funding, any gaps in current funding, how other states fund fire and EMS services, and best practices from other states. The Secretary shall report the work group’s findings and any recommendations to the Chairmen of the House Committee on General Laws and the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on or before October 1, 2023.”
Understanding the full scope of available funding sources and assessing the needs of fire and EMS across the Commonwealth is essential to prescribing policy recommendations to bolster these essential services. One of the first action items of the workgroup will be to determine the scope of the study and what information will be requested from local governments and fire and EMS. This will serve as a foundation for additional study and inquiry.
In addition to the enacted legislation, a budget amendment for $125,000 contained in the House version of the budget would have provided the necessary General Funds to allow the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to support the hiring of a consultant to assist with the study. As this item was not contained in the “skinny budget”, the lack of funding means that the hiring of an outside consultant must be postponed until such time as the General Assembly reconvenes to pass a “fuller” version of the budget for FY 2024. Regardless of whether this comes to pass, the workgroup is tasked with moving forward with the study of this issue.
VACo urges the General Assembly to provide additional resources that would assist local governments with the recruitment, retention, training, and support of first responders such as law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel, and 9-1-1 dispatchers. This legislative position was adopted as part of VACo’s legislative platform for 2023. This workgroup’s study of the issue and the report due to the General Assembly in October will hopefully be useful in determining policies and funding to help county governments and fire and EMS. VACo will continue to advocate on this issue and may be reaching out to our members to help gather relevant information on fire and EMS in your county.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett