WISE — Presentations from emergency service agencies and animal welfare groups caught the attention of the Wise County Board of Supervisors on Thursday.
The Wise County Fire and Rescue Association and representatives from seven animal rescue and care groups, collective and individual, have all asked supervisors to consider funding increases for their respective safety and shelter work in the county. .
Fire and Rescue Association President Jack Mullins and Appalachian Fire Department Deputy Chief Travis Anderson asked the council to consider more funding for fire and rescue services, as well as better planning and coordination of county emergency services.
Mullins said Wise County ranks last out of 95 Virginia counties and cities in annual per capita budget expenditures for fire and rescue crews.
“Fire and rescue agencies must hold bingo to fund their services,” Mullins said, adding that the county’s total annual funding for all agencies has risen from $12,000 in 2001 to $28,000 by now. 2021. While Norton and Big Stone Gap have successfully funded new fire trucks and ambulances in recent years, these purchases have exceeded the county’s annual EMS budget.
Mullins said personal firefighter gear, from protective gear to respiratory gear, can cost up to $14,000, while rising replacement costs mean many departments have a respiratory equipment 20 years or older.
Mullins and Anderson each recommended that the Board of Supervisors appoint two members to serve on the Fire and Rescue Association to improve communication and planning for county EMS services.
Anderson said adequate fire and emergency services affect the county’s ability to attract new residents and businesses, while inadequate services affect home and business insurance rates or even whether coverage is available. County residents now save about $6 million a year in total premiums because EMS services provide needed coverage, he added.
Spokesperson Judy Harding gave the presentation on animal welfare. She cited the rescue, care and support efforts of six area organizations: PAWS, ARC, Appalachian Feline Friends, Wise County Humane Society, Tri-State Animal Rescue and the Carol Buchanan estate, as well as county resident and animal rescuer Paula Coffey.
Between fundraising, donations and volunteer time, the organizations and Coffey provide more than $300,000 a year to rescue and care for abandoned or surrendered dogs, cats and other animals, Harding said. These groups also help treat animals brought to the county animal shelter and send them to other rescue organizations for adoption.
“Wise County treats more animals than surrounding counties, especially cats,” Harding said. Due to the pandemic-related slowdown in pet adoptions and transportation to rescue groups outside the area over the past two years, she added, the county animal shelter has seen more animals stay longer.
Longer stays at the Wise County shelter contributed to another problem, Harding said: the highest euthanasia rate among surrounding counties, at 12%.
Thanks to volunteer groups and good shelter staff, Harding said, Wise County provides one of the region’s most efficient annual budget costs to taxpayers at 0.35 cents per animal per resident.
Harding asked the board to consider $50,000 for hiring a shelter manager who can focus on its operations to free up county animal control staff for related duties. She said a community outreach program as well as the development of budget accountability and priorities in cooperation with voluntary agencies would help make animal welfare services more efficient and responsive.
Progressive animal welfare policies help make a locality more attractive to new residents and economic development, Harding added.