Time for a talk, and some answers

Published 12:27 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Facing the prospect of receiving only half of the funds that it sought from the City Council, the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad is applying pressure to council members in an effort to get at least five who would support overturning the original decision that volunteer members worry could end up leaving the organization short next fiscal year.

The squad asked the city to provide $100,000 of its budget next year; instead, Suffolk council members agreed to commit $50,000. This year, having received a commitment of $100,000 from the city, the squad received only $80,000. To be sure, Suffolk faced a tough budget year this year, but a successful bond refinancing and holding the line on property taxes enabled city leaders to pass a budget that asked little, if any, sacrifice from government agencies and departments.

Why the volunteer rescue squad should have been asked to sacrifice proportionately so much, when its members make such an obvious contribution to the city, is a mystery to many who have followed the situation. It is just one of the questions that needs to be answered by people on both sides of the issue.

To begin with, city officials need to fully explain why the rescue squad never received all of its appropriated money last year, forcing the organization’s leaders to take out a loan to cover year-end expenses. Furthermore, the city should describe its plan for taking over the work of the volunteers if the funding cuts result in the closure of the NSVRS. How many positions would have to be filled, and at what cost? How much equipment would have to be bought? What would the citizens have to pay for emergency calls that would have been free if made by the volunteers? How would all of the changes affect tax rates?

On the other hand, the volunteers also need to address some concerns. With everyone finding it necessary to tighten their belts amidst the recession, what money-saving efforts have they made during the past year or so? How was the loan used that was taken out recently, and what amount of debt does the organization carry? What would become of the squad’s equipment and its building if it closed? And for those who aren’t closely involved with either the city’s paid emergency services workers or the volunteers who perform some of the same duties: Why does Suffolk need both paid and volunteer rescue squads?

More than anything, Suffolk citizens deserve for city officials to initiate a public and honest discussion with the volunteer squad about what future it has in the city, remembering just how vital the squad has been during much of its 50-year history.