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BY JEFF BRANSCOME
The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to accelerate the hiring of 15 additional firefighters to help reduce overtime.
The Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management will now fill the positions in November instead of next year.
That will add $321,000 to this year's budget but reduce overtime expenses.
The Fire and EMS Commission endorsed the revised hiring schedule at a meeting earlier this month.
The county initially planned to hire nine of the firefighters in January and six in July.
That schedule was based on a plan supervisors approved earlier this year to hire 55 fire and rescue personnel by January 2014.
Paid firefighters have been stretched especially thin since July, when they began working around the clock at stations in Salem Fields and Salem Church at the request of Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue.
Chancellor previously tried to cover those stations on nights and/or weekends but no longer had the manpower.
The county is on pace to spend $1.8 million in overtime for firefighters this fiscal year because every station is staffed at a minimum, Fire Chief Chris Eudailey said.
The county could hire about 24 firefighters for that amount, he said.
Some firefighters are working 100 hours a week, Eudailey said, and the county may be on the verge of mandating overtime.
"The system can't continue indefinitely in that situation," Supervisor Paul Trampe said at Tuesday's meeting.
Eudailey said he thinks the additional firefighters to be hired in November will start their jobs in late March or April after graduating from recruit school.
Nine of them will be assigned to stations at Brokenburg and Belmont, where firefighters are currently working overtime on weekends because of a lack of volunteers.
Hiring those employees earlier than originally planned will cost $61,000 but save $84,000 in overtime.
It's unclear how much the county will save in overtime by hiring the other six firefighters this year instead of July 2013.
Supervisor Benjamin Pitts said it doesn't make financial sense to be spending so much for overtime.
"You can only ride that horse for so long before it begins to collapse," he said.
In other business, the Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 to approve a mixed-use zoning classification that would give developers more flexibility in their projects.
Mixed-use developments typically involve a combination of homes, commercial businesses, apartments and other uses.
It was possible for developers to propose such developments before the new classification's approval.
But the separate zoning category will require less detail in proposed plans, giving developers more leeway in how their projects evolve.
Pitts, who cast the sole dissenting vote, objected to a clause allowing supervisors to override provisions in the new zoning category.
"It concerns me that, at some point in time, four members of the Board of Supervisors could gut this ordinance on a particular project," Pitts said.
He also emphasized that the new category doesn't have minimum requirements for undeveloped land.
Planning Commission Chairman Robert Stuber, who addressed supervisors, said commissioners wanted to recommend a zoning category that would "foster an environment that was pro business."
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402