LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — For the first time, Lynchburg’s local firefighters union is endorsing a candidate for City Council.
They organized a political action committee this year called Lynchburg FIREPAC in an effort to vet candidates for the May elections. With that endorsement, they’re also calling out funding issues with the department.
In a press release, the PAC compares the 2020 budget to funding from a decade ago. Their budget did increase by about a million dollars, but they said that did not keep up with the rate of inflation, and as a result, the department’s purchasing power has gone down.
Meanwhile, they argue, the city’s budget has kept up with inflation and increased its purchasing power.
WFXR looked into these claims and found the 2010 Fire Department budget was about $14.7 million.
Had that figure kept up with inflation, the department’s 2020 budget would be about $17.4 million, compared to the most recently adopted budget of about $15.9 million.
Meanwhile, the City’s total budget for 2010 was about $154.3 million and rose to about $194.6 million in 2020, which exceeded the rate of inflation by about $12 million. However, this does not account for factors such as population growth and an increase in the tax base.
The Fire Department is not affiliated with the political action committee, but Chief Greg Wormser says recent population growth has meant a bigger strain on his department.
“Our service delivery continues to increase, so we’ve got a challenge where we are having more calls for service, a 16% increase in the past three years.”
He says there have not been more employees to respond to the increase in calls.
“Staffing levels continue to stay the same, so we’ve not seen an increase in staff members.”
He hopes that will change with next year’s budget, which is in progress.
“We’ve asked for new employees,” said Wormser, “and we’ve also asked for increases in salaries for some of our employees.”
Specifically, he is asking for nine new employees, which in total cost about $500,000.
Councilman Jeff Helgeson says that’s something he could support.
“Hate to comment on something that I haven’t seen,” he said, “but the anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen says that I think they’re on the right track.”
According to Lynchburg’s General Registrar Christine Gibbons, Helgeson’s is the only Council candidate with no declared challenger at this point.
Lynchburg FIREPAC Director Marty Misjuns says choosing Helgeson as their first endorsement was, “A way of extending gratitude for his public policy efforts” saying he’s been a big advocate of public safety.
“There’s nothing higher than public safety,” said Helgeson, “and so I’m delighted and pleased that the FIREPAC has recognized my long history of looking out for our public safety folks.”
Lynchburg FIREPAC plans to evaluate the three competitive council races and issue more endorsements.
We reached out to the city’s Chief Financial Officer for more context on the group’s budget concerns, but she has not yet responded.
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