Some people may think that 5 percent loans have gone the way of the nickel cigar. But a suburban Virginia volunteer fire department has discovered that bargain loans are as close as the nearest Farmers Home Administration office.
The Dale City Volunteer Fire Department is eligible for a $500,000, percent FmHA loan because Dale City, an unincorporated community of 33,371 people is classified as a "rural area" under the agency's criteria.
"It's a godsend, no doubt about it," said fire department president Robert Wright. Before the department found a friend at Farmers Home, which is part of the Agriculture Department, it had been turned down by banks, who, according to Wright, told the firemen their "debt load is too heavy."
If the FmHA loan goes through -- Wright is expecting a favorable decision in mid-July -- the fire department will be able to pay off an old 10 percent mortgage of $365,000 and use the balance of $135,000 to help pay for some new rooms at its main station on Hillendale Drive and replace the roof of its Birchdale Avenue station.
Best of all, the cut in interest, from 10 to 5 percent, would mean the department's debt payments would drop from $38,000 to $34,000 annually.
The department gets $230,000 a year from a 3-cent levy added to the county real estate tax on Dale City properties, but it has used those funds for operating expenses and has paid for construction costs through fund-raising.
Dale city's eligibility was defended by John M. Slusser, director of the FmHA district office in Tappahannock, Va. "I'll be honest with you," he said. "I drove throughout the [fire department's] territory, and while the fire stations are located in Dale City, they do serve a number of rural residents. It's an area we consider within the program."
While the Reagan administration has embarked on a major program to cut government spending, John R. Bowles, acting assistant administrator for FmHA's community programs, stressed that Congress -- not the GOP administration -- wrote the rules that permit the Dale City loan.
"That's the way the law reads," Bowles said. "It's not for me to be happy or unhappy with it. We have to live with it."
The main fire station in Dale City has no sleeping facilities for firefighters. The only kitchen facilities are a two-burner hot plate, a sink and a small refrigerator. "It's pretty primitive," said department president Wright.
If the loan goes through, the department plans to purchase a full-size refrigerator, a larger sink and a four-burner range.
The two fire stations, like others in Prince William County, are staffed by paid firefighters from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by volunteers during the other shifts. The stations are owned by the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department, which is not part of the county government.