HENDERSON — County Commissioners have given the Vance County Rescue Squad a new contract that will run for four years.
The decision came during the commissioners’ June 7 meeting, on a 4-3 vote that saw Commissioner Gordon Wilder, Tommy Hester and Archie Taylor dissent.
Another commissioner, Yolanda Feimster, tried to abstain, but because the state discourages abstentions save in cases of a direct conflict of interest, her vote counted as a vote in favor of approval.
The trigger for at least some of the dissenting votes was a decision to remove from the draft contract a provision that asked the squad to include the addresses and certifications of its members when it gives the county fire marshal its membership roster each year.
County Manager Jordan McMillen told commissioners the squad in the talks leading up to the deal had “raised a concern with providing personal information as a part of their roster submittal without [the] consent of their members.”
Hester wanted the provision kept in, but was outvoted. “If you’re going to take public money, I think you need to be open minded about it,” he said.
The contract’s four-year length matches the county’s intended practices with its volunteer fire departments.
In keeping with a decision the county made about the volunteer fire departments in 2019, officials also aren’t requiring the rescue squad to submit an audit at least once every three years. Instead, it’ll give the county staff an “annual financial review” and accompanying information presented in “accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.”
The main difference between the two, according to the National Council of Nonprofits, is that in an audit the accountants conducting it have to secure “independent confirmation or verification” of the financial information they’re looking at.
In a review they also don’t do as much checking of the data, at the transaction-by-transaction level, and they don’t examine the client’s financial-control systems, the National Council said.
McMillen said the county dropped its audit requirement for volunteer fire departments in July 2019, when a new set of contractors for them went into effect.
“At that time, the volunteer fire departments and rescue squad provided feedback that they were having difficulty obtaining an audit and the costs were rising significantly,” McMillen said. “This went through the [commissoners’] Public Safety Committee at the time and in lieu of the audit, they are to obtain and submit annual financial reviews.”
The safety committee in 2019 at the time included Wilder and Commissioners Dan Brummitt and Carolyn Faines. McMillen backed its recommendation.
The rescue squad, like the volunteer fire departments, is a nonprofit group the county hires via contract to provide safety-related services. The fire departments focus primarily on fighting fires, while the rescue squad handles things like water rescues and vehicle extractions.
The squad’s role has been a matter of considerable controversy in recent years, as its leaders have argued, with support from Brummitt and Faines, that it should get into the fire-fighting business and supplant the county’s in-house Vance County Fire Department in covering the rural areas adjacent to Henderson.
Hester and Taylor, meanwhile, have questioned the expense of operating a separate rescue squad. Taylor pushed the idea of putting rescue services out to bid.
The dispute spilled over into the political arena in 2020 when the squad’s treasurer, Michael Fisher, ran against Taylor for the District 2 seat on the commissioners. But Taylor won re-election.
Contact Ray Gronberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 252-436-2850.