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Under new plan, $4 million from Prince William fire levy used to fund career firefighters

Can county officials take funds from the fire levy to fund career firefighters?

Virginia law does allow it, said Prince William County Attorney Angela Horan.

Now, under a new proposal, $4 million of Prince William County’s $35.2 million fire levy — money traditionally goes to pay for the cost of new fire stations, new fire engines and equipment, as well as to fund operations at the county’s various volunteer fire houses — and use it to offset costs of county fire and rescue operations.

Shifting the funds will lessen the burden on the county’s general fund, of which $10.6 million was used to fund volunteer fire operations, according to county government spokesman Jason Grant.  

The current proposal aims to provide an additional  $4 million in fire levy revenue to the general fund, bringing about $8 million to cover some of the cost of career staffing during traditional volunteer times.

The In this next year’s budget nearly $8 million will be needed to fund those salaries.

“Four million dollars is a big change,” said County Executive Melissa Peacor. “I’m sure the volunteers would tell you that.”

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors spent Saturday looking for budget cuts. They also looked at moving monies from reserve funds to the general fund in an effort to cap a planned property tax increase to no more than 4% in next year’s budget.

The fire levy  collects $35 million per year, and is directly tied to property tax bills. The levy revenue has grown too large at the expense of the county general fund, according to Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman At-large Corey Stewart, who said it should be tapped to help lessen the burden tax burden on residents.

Volunteers fear, however, that if county officials dip into the reserve fund to pay for new career firefighters now it’ll mean less money to purchase new equipment, and funds to train new volunteers, and operations costs down the road.

“If you continue to take increased funds from the fire levy over the next five years, the fund becomes stagnant,” said Nokesville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Hickerson.

Hickerson added that he suspects the county will funnel even more funds from the levy in 2017 and ‘18 to meet the growing demands of the county’s career fire staff.

Peacor and County officials dispute that claim and say they will only take $4 million from the fund each year for the next five years.

Career firefighters are on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prince William Fire Chief Kevin McGee said his department will spend $10.6 million funding career staff during traditional volunteer hours – nights, weekends, and holidays.

The fire levy will also go to fund construction of the planned $11 million Bacon Race Fire station on the corner of Prince William Parkway and Hoadly Road near Dale City.

McGee said volunteer fire chiefs will meet on Wednesday to get a first look at the proposal to shift $4 million away from the fire levy to the general fund.

*This story has been corrected

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