Authority fights to balance budget

Representatives from the Tucker County Ambulance Authority announced, during a contentious Tucker County Commission meeting Wednesday, they need funding to balance their 2013-2014 budget.

Ambulance Authority officials rejected several proposals by commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting, including offering $40,000 above current funding levels.

Ambulance Authority representative Larry Armbruster said the budget “contained numerous problems, i.e. no raises for employees for the third year in a row, no provisions for additional coverage we had to drop due to budget concerns in the previous year and the fact that we have approximately a $96,000 deficit in the budget.

“The board decided not to act on that budget,” Armbruster said. “Especially since it would cost us approximately $61,000 in addition to our salaries for a 40-cent-per-hour raise for our employees and to provide four additional hours of salaries for a second crew on a seven-day-a-week basis.”

Armbruster said the Ambulance Authority is in “a crisis mode” because it must have a finalized budget by July 1, but by law cannot pass a budget with a deficit.

Tucker County has three ambulance stations – one in Parsons, one at the Courtland Acres nursing home in Thomas and one at Canaan Valley Fire Department. There only are two ambulance crews for the county, however.

Currently one crew provides 24-hour coverage in Parsons, while a second crew provides eight hours of coverage per day, alternating between Thomas and Canaan Valley.

The second crew was created when Davis Health System reduced the scope of its emergency coverage in Parsons, officials said Wednesday.

“One possible solution would be to further reduce our coverage for the county,” Armbruster said. “For example, we could reduce second-crew coverage, which is eight hours all together, which would save us approximately $78,000. Still not enough.

“A second thing we could do is reduce a shift, i.e., a midnight shift, which would be about eight hours, seven days a week and save $78,000,” Armbruster said.

“Essentially that would put us down to one crew to cover the county 16 hours a day. I rest my case.”

In the county’s budget for the next fiscal year, the Tucker County Commission budgets $125,000 for the Tucker County Ambulance Authority.

“We currently give (the Ambulance Authority) hotel motel tax in the amount of $75,000,” Commissioner Mike Rosenau said. “It is our choice to give you that portion of the hotel motel tax. “

“Well, if you don’t want to give us anything, don’t,” Armbruster yelled in response. “Do we want quality and protective services for the county? That is the question that has to be asked and answered.”

“As an authority board, what have you done to bring your budget into line?” Rosenau asked.

“Tried to pay the bills,” Armbruster answered.

“We give you free rent, you have free office space. We, the commission, pay for your utilities,” Rosenau said. “Have you done any more negotiation with Courtland Acres?”

“We have started a conversation with them but have nothing finalized yet,” Armbruster answered.

“What’s your discussion?” Rosenau asked.

“I would just as soon not discuss that in public,” Armbruster said.

“Why wouldn’t you? It’s everybody’s responsibility. It’s all our money. It’s all of our coverage,” Rosenau said.

“Essentially, ‘can you cut it down, or remove it or drop it all together,'” Armbruster said. “And that’s up to the Courtland Acres board to make that decision.”

Commission members then offered to give an additional $40,000 to the Ambulance Authority to add a second 24-hour crew for three months. That idea was rejected by Armbruster.

“What dollar amount are you requesting?” asked Commissioner Diane Hinkle.

“I am presenting some facts,” Armbruster answered. “I will let you folks decide what the dollar amount is going to be.”

Rosenau explained the commission’s responsibility for ambulance coverage in the county.

“State code says that we will supply ambulance coverage,” Rosenau said. “Grant County just went to a private place (that provides ambulance service). We have to provide services, yes we do.”

After further discussion, commissioners voted to schedule an emergency meeting on the matter for 8 a.m. Friday in the Tucker County Courthouse Courtroom.

Commissioners then asked the Ambulance Authority board to look at its budget and see where it could make some cuts.

Ambulance Authority members left the meeting, then returned later, asking to address the commission again. They were told they would have to wait until the end of the meeting after the agenda items were finished.

“Basically what we came up with are three options,” Armbruster said when the issue was taken up a second time. “We can vote to close station 2; (create) a three-month budget slashed to the bone; (or) dissolve the Ambulance Authority board.”

Commissioners asked the Ambulance Authority to provide a budget for Friday’s emergency meeting, but Armbruster said they could not finish one by that time.

“You folks let us know what you are giving us and then we will come up with a budget,” Armbruster said. “There is no sense in us putting together a budget until we know how much we are getting. Then we will take that to our board.”