DOBSON — Surry County will kick in $15,000 to help Surry County’s Veterans of Foreign Wars posts purchase a new bus for the honor guard.
“It’s about time for our heater to start working,” said Mount Airy VFW commander David Raborn. “In January our air conditioning works really well.”
Raborn, accompanied by about a half-dozen VFW members, took the podium during the public forum portion of the county Board of Commissioners’ meeting on April 3. He said a 1992 bus used to transport an honor guard is “on its last leg.”
The honor guard, comprised of members of the Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy VFW posts, handles the military customs and courtesies associated with all funerals for veterans in Surry County. In 2016, the honor guard offered a three-volley salute to 66 veterans departing the ranks, and already so far this year, the honor guard had performed services at the the funerals of 30 more.
Sometimes the group attends up to three funerals in one day, and it receives no monetary compensation for the services, said Raborn. The VFW is the only group performing such a role in Surry County.
The bus was bought new in 1992. However, with more than 200,000 miles on it, it is time to decommission the bus, said Raborn. Its air conditioning and heating units, despite multiple repairs, are no longer functioning, and other parts on the bus have been failing.
The commander has priced buses, and a “new, used” bus will cost the VFW a minimum of $40,000. Raborn noted he wants to buy one which is no older than a 2012 model.
“If we can get what we got out of this bus, none of us will be here to ask you for more money,” Raborn told the board.
The posts have raised a little more than $6,000 to purchase the bus through fundraising efforts such as a spaghetti dinner and an auction.
Raborn mentioned the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners had pledged $20,000 toward the cause. Additionally, each of the board’s members had personally donated $100.
Board Chairman Eddie Harris jokingly told Raborn his time was up after the mention of board members digging into their own wallets.
However, the chairman also took the opportunity to make a public plea to Surry County’s residents, asking all to consider donating for the bus.
While Harris told Raborn the board would consider the matter at its scheduled budget workshop three days later, some in the audience didn’t let the county board off of the hook that easily.
Mount Airy Commissioner Shirley Brinkley took the podium to ask the county board to match the city’s donation, and resident Don Miner put a $50 bill on the podium, urging county commissioners to contribute personal funds to the effort to buy a new bus.
While Miner’s tactic drew laughs, on Thursday commissioners indicated they weren’t impressed.
“I’d love to see us do what Mount Airy did,” said Commissioner Larry Johnson. “This is probably the only time we will be asked to do this.”
Johnson was also an advocate for giving money to the Disabled American Veterans post for a vehicle used to transport veterans to medical appointments.
The county gave $14,000 toward the van in 2015.
“I think we ought to think about this,” answered Commissioner Buck Golding.
Golding said he did not appreciate the manner in which the matter came before the county board, noting he believed the request should have come through the county’s veteran services department rather than being raised in open forum.
Commissioner Van Tucker indicated he agreed the request didn’t seem to follow any sort of protocol established by the board, noting he didn’t appreciate Miner’s challenge.
That stated, after further discussion among board members, County Manager Chris Knopf indicated the county had a little more than $71,000 in its general fund contingency, $50,000 of which is pledged toward placing an EMS substation in the Lowgap area.
Golding made a motion for the county to give $15,000 to the VFW for the bus, and it was passed unanimously almost five hours into the meeting, which began at 5 p.m.
Following the meeting, Raborn said he was thankful for what he called a generous donation.
He also said, with more than $41,000 in the bank, the VFW might be able to move immediately on the purchase of a new bus.
However, there are other costs associated with the bus, such as the cost to have it wrapped with the appropriate graphics. The commander said he hopes residents will still consider putting a few dollars toward the VFW’s needs.
Those who wish to donate may do so by going to any BB&T branch, and stating they would like to donate for the VFW bus.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.