It could be viewed as a symbolic achievement that greatly exceeds its monetary value, but a funding increase is finally in store for the Mount Airy Rescue Squad from the city government.
Each spring around this time, squad officials submit requests to Mount Airy leaders seeking a hike in the city’s annual appropriation of $5,000, which has become an entrenched figure.
This occurs as part of budget preparations for each new fiscal year beginning on July 1, when the city Finance Committee weighs annual appropriations to non-municipal entities that supply valuable services. These include the rescue squad, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and the public library.
In addition to the emergency calls its members respond to in the greater Mount Airy area, the squad assists with traffic control and other needs for annual events in the city limits such as the Autumn Leaves Festival and Christmas parade. Its members helped with 20 different events in 2015.
The Finance Committee annually holds a meeting to allow outside-agency representatives to make budget pitches. And during this year’s session last week, rescue squad Chief Nathan Webb told city commissioners Shirley Brinkley and Steve Yokeley — who make up the committee — that a funding increase is justified.
Squad officials requested $10,000 for the upcoming 2016-2017 fiscal year, double the present amount, to meet growing needs in the community.
If members of the all-volunteer rescue squad — now in its 55th year — did not assist at festivals and other events, city police and fire department personnel would have to take up the slack, Webb said, meaning higher overtime pay for those employees. A cost breakdown from the squad shows that this would exceed its operating costs of $9,618 to cover the events, some of which are handled exclusively by the squad.
The same breakdown shows that of its 1,327 calls for service during 2015, 853 — or 64 percent — were in the city limits. Squad officials also say their organization supplies technical and rescue services that the municipality is financially unable to provide its citizens.
After hearing the squad chief’s presentation, the Finance Committee members said they were willing to break through the $5,000 ceiling at last.
“I think it’s time they got an increase,” Commissioner Yokeley said. “It’s been $5,000 for a long time.”
However, the Finance Committee decided to recommend that the rescue squad get $7,500 rather than the $10,000 requested.
Still, the apparent tone of the meeting from the squad standpoint was that some level of hike was needed to acknowledge the organization’s role in serving the community.
“I think they provide a really good service,” Yokeley said of squad personnel. The question, he added, involves how much the city should reasonably be expected to inject into the operation given that the squad is strong on fundraising and receives substantial assistance from elsewhere.
The squad budget totals $191,286.
A big chunk of that is provided by Surry County, Webb told the city committee, with about $65,000 in county support projected for 2016-2017, reflecting a request for a 6.5 percent increase. Another $58,000 is anticipated from the United Fund of Surry.
Unlike Mount Airy, the county traditionally is willing to grant hikes in financial support, according to the meeting discussion.
“We’ve never really been turned down by them in the past,” Webb said of Surry officials.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.