Town of Abingdon Fire Budget Request to Washington County 2024

The Town of Abingdon, population 8,300, operates the Abingdon Fire Department (AFD). The AFD has been serving the residents of the town and surrounding area since 1808. For over 200 years, the AFD was staffed by generations of volunteers and operated on a very minimal budget. Over the past 20 years, it has become increasingly difficult to find part-time/volunteers to serve in the department. Recognizing this, the Town created a full-time, paid fire chief in 2016. This position was created so that we could build an organization that would be sustainable as the future unfolds.

As part of the county’s annual budgeting process, the Town of Abingdon requested that Washington County pay for the costs of providing services to the 8,800 residents in the Abingdon Fire Service District. The Town has paid fire professionals and spends over $743,000 on providing fire services to both Town residents as well as to the homes and businesses in the Abingdon Fire Service district. Each year, the disproportionate number of calls that the AFD answers is not inside of the Town. Each year, the percentage of time spent on calls outside of the Town grows. Each year, the funding from the county remains flat.

Of the 1,801 fire calls dispatched in Washington County in the last year, the Abingdon Fire Department answered 700 calls (38.86%) in the last year.  The calls outside of the Town of Abingdon represent 52% of the personnel costs and 57% of staff time responding to and handling these calls.

The Town of Abingdon residents pay taxes to Washington County and to the Town of Abingdon. With the Town’s tax revenues, the AFD have been providing fire services outside of the Town for decades. The funding provided by the county is approximately 19% of what the cost of providing the service is. This is depicted below:

Since 2014, the Abingdon Fire Department has responded to 5,209 calls for service with 2,807 (53.8%) of them being outside of the Town limits. This is a consistent situation, not a single month or year. To date, no substantive actions have been taken to address this disparity.

The funding request was submitted to the county on December 15, 2023 and was simultaneously mailed to the two members of the Board of Supervisors who represent the Town on the Board. On February 13, 2024 AT 2:59 PM the Town was notified by the county administrator that our funding request for $546,471 would be funded with $33,750 of the additional $300,000, the AFD was granted 11.25% – despite answering 38.6% of the calls in the county.

As stewards of the Town’s tax dollars, it is not possible for the Town to continue to provide services at a deficit of over $500,000 per year without a path forward. To date, the county has made no indication that they are intent on increasing the funding over time so that they can pay for the services the AFD provides. To put this into a scaled perspective, this is like the county spending $9 million per year in Smyth County. The county taxpayers should not and would not tolerate it.  No business can operate this way as it is not a sustainable model.

As the members of the Board of Supervisors stated many times during the February 13, 2024 meeting, they have “kicked the can” on fire services for decades. The Board of Supervisors had a needs assessment fire study done in 1988 by the Washington County Fire Services Study Committee and the Virginia Fire Services Board in a study titled “ASSESSING WASHINGTON COUNTY’S USE OF ITS 1988 FIRE SERVICES IMPROVEMENT PLAN”.  In October of 2011, the Virginia Fire Services Board produced another study “A Report of Findings and Recommendations: County of Washington Fire & EMS Study.” To date, many of the recommendations from these studies have not been implemented. It is now 2024.

While the Town of Abingdon will continue to respond to verified fires as a ‘second due’, we will no longer respond to calls outside of the Town unless there is a verified fire. We will be ‘second due’. What this means is that we will respond after the dispatch protocols have been followed and the ‘first due’ does not respond. Last year, the AFD answered more than 350 such calls. If you are in a second due area and there is a verified fire, the AFD will still be responding. We will not allow life or safety to be imperiled by fire because of lack of funding.

The Abingdon Fire Department provides excellent service and the Town has one of the lowest ISO ratings in the county as evidence of this.

The reports mentioned above are in the linked PDF file and tabbed within the file. Please refer to that file for this relevant information.

Follow this link to view the PDF.