Pam Dudding Contributing writer
Many topics were discussed, and decisions were reached at the November Board of Supervisors meeting.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) monthly briefing from Ray Varney included the Meadow Creek bridge project, explaining the bid came in “a couple hundred thousand dollars” under their estimate. The project will move forward, taking approximately nine months to complete, starting in February.
Reports also indicated the continuation of mowing and shoulder work on 311 and North Potts Mountain Road, gravel road upkeep and adding stone and dust control. The Paint Bank Bridge project is expected to be completed in November.
Darryl Humphreys, Craig County’s Emergency Services Director, said that he is having a retention and recruiting issue.
“We have lost two employees in the last three weeks to other locations. One went to a hospital facility and the other to another agency, and we almost lost a third full-time employee,” he explained. “EMS is experiencing a manpower shortage throughout this region and the nation. We have been trying to hire people.”
He explained that they have used flyers and posted openings on Western Virginia and state EMS websites trying to hire part-time people, with only two takers so far. However, no one has applied for the much-needed full-time positions as other places are offering significant sign-on bonuses.
Humphreys asked for the Board’s approval, which would help with retention, to offer overtime pay and change to a 53-hour workweek so that anyone who works 60 hours gets paid time and a half for anything past 53, meeting the fair labor standards act for Firefighters and EMS.
“We are forcing our full-time people to backfill our calendar to cover the county in EMS and we have full-time people paying them straight time,” he shared. “The things I am hearing is that they have to come in on their off days and unscheduled days to provide coverage for the county. I think it would be a benefit to us to try to retain these people, being a big incentive to go to the 53-hour workweek and able to pay time and half for any backfill.”
Humphreys also noted that money exists in the budget to accommodate the request.
“I am working two jobs right now, working in the office and I’m back on the truck trying to help out so people aren’t getting drafted every day to come in and fill the calendar,” he said. “We are going to start losing more people and I can’t afford to lose anybody.”
Collins suggested to the Board to readjust the money to help Darrell retain the good employees and help to recruit more full-time people and get back up to full staff.
Humphreys disclosed too that other larger localities and agencies are offering the EMS people “big money” to work for them.
The Board inquired of Humphreys if there had been any interest shown in the vacated positions.
“No interest from anyone, even ones I spoke with,” Humphreys shared. “They tell me, ‘join the club.’”
Rusty asked about the billable rates and Darryl said the call system changed to a new version and lost some data. They were having trouble at first, but last year they were up 77 percent.
Humphreys then explained that rates were adjusted a couple of years ago to compete with other localities. For an advanced life support, paying life support transport is $850.00 and mileage pay and BLS transport is $650 which is set by Medicare/Medicaid.
“I need to revisit to see if they have made any adjustments, but I see there will be adjustments made in the first part of 2022,” he added. “We don’t want to leave money on the table and capitalize on all we can. I got good people and don’t want to lose them.”
The Board proceeded with Darryl’s requests.
There was discussion over the taxes paid to the county by the Bed and Breakfasts.
Additionally, Rusty Zimmerman proposed the possibility of opening a cattle processing facility in Craig County, explaining that many local farmers must take their cattle to Bedford to process.
Jason Matyas, the upcoming new Board member, addressed his colleagues concerning the idea of a possible cattle processing facility.
“I’m a homesteader and a farmer. Our primary business is an online ecommerce business selling garden seed, but we also raise animals for sale on a very small scale. The primary industry in Craig County is agriculture, particularly animals and I am very encouraged to hear this news and basically would like to touch base and get up to speed on what is going on there.”
He noted data points on this topic as the Board had mentioned the disruptions in the food industry with the pandemic last year.
“A lot of people don’t realize unless they are paying attention that they haven’t really improved all that much in most areas. There are significant problems in the supply chain, both nationally and regionally, particularly in the area of food, and if you look at food prices, they just keep going up,” he said. “Inflation is high, but food inflation is generally higher. The consumer price index, which is the number the government reports, actually excludes food and fuel from its calculation. But those are the ones that matter the most.”
Matyas noted that one of his biggest goals he has in taking this new position is to look for ways that Craig can try to build the local economy, particularly in the terms of agriculture and one of the primary ways, he said, is in the processing of animals.
“The average American spends approximately $7,500 a year in food. So, if you multiply that in terms of residents, you are talking millions of dollars in food expenditures for Craig residents every year. If we can start to re-localize some of that economy from our local consumers buying from our local producers, that could make a big difference for our local farmers to have an outlet for their sales,” he added. “So, I would like to encourage the Board to be looking at this earnestly. It is the primary way to grow our economy as much as tourism and some of the other things that are happening. We can connect producers and consumers locally, to keep all those dollars locally. I look forward to working with you on these matters.”
Matyas also added a special thank you to Kathi Toelke for her service on the Board, “to our county and your district. You’ve done a fantastic job and I’ve got big shoes to fill. Thank you for not only being a good neighbor, but an excellent public servant too.”