EMS, fire funds sought

Two emergency services representatives presented the Tucker County Commission with major funding requests Wednesday. leading to heated comments but no decisions.

Bobby Phillips, president of the Tucker County Ambulance Authority, and the Parsons Volunteer Fire Department’s treasurer Tom Klus both addressed commissioners asking for more funding.

“We have two ambulances in our fleet which are 16 years old,” Phillips said in presenting commissioners with a request letter. “Two of the newer ambulances in our fleet have over 100,000 miles. . . therefore, this board would like to propose that emergency service fees be enacted on residents and visitors. This could be done through real estate taxes, a surtax on sales, a fee for city utilities and charges on telephones.

“We feel staffing two stations 24 hours a day seven days a week is becoming a necessity,” Phillips said. “We would like to have a paramedic on duty at two stations 24 hours a day. It is becoming evident (it is needed) to ensure that the emergency medical needs of the 1.5 million visitors and residents of Tucker County are met.”

Phillips said the Ambulance Authority also proposes a $36 per household voluntary fee for the county.

“If 65 percent of the residents paid the fee, we would raise approximately $20,000,” Phillips said. “If we could get a levy, we could cut out the voluntary fee. But that would take us approximately a year and a half to get a levy in place.”

Response from the commissioners was positive.

“I think this is a great approach,” Commissioner Diane Hinkle said. The commission did not take any action on the request, or say when it may be considered by them.

Klus, dressed in full turn-out firefighter gear, addressed the commissioners about a funding request form he had presented at two earlier meetings.

“I stand ready to answer any and all questions you might have,” Klus said Wednesday.

Hinkle asked Klus to review what his request entails.

“I have asked on behalf of the Parsons Volunteer Fire Department and in fairness of the other three fire departments to increase funding… from $65,000 to $145,000,” Klus said. “That would be $20,000 additional to each department beside the hotel/motel tax funding. The request is made because workers comp is going to do nothing but increase. That would take some pressure off there.”

Commissioner Mike Rosenau said Klus’ training sessions over the past few meetings raised questions on the commissioners’ side as well.

“In order to explain to you, there are different pots we draw from as well,” Rosenau said. “One of these is our general fund. One is also the hotel/motel tax. These went to fire departments and EMS. With that allocation, that is where you get the $65,000 split.”

Rosenau said Klus’ request has caused commissioners to wonder if they can still give hotel/motel tax money to the fire departments and EMS.

Tucker County Prosecuting Attorney Ray LaMora addressed the issue.

“I have followed up with the auditor’s office and they agreed with my reading of the state code,” LaMora said. “Disbursement cannot be made to fire departments or EMS through hotel/motel because Tucker County does not meet one of the sections in the code. Tucker County no longer has a hospital nor is there recurring flooding.”

LaMora said the commission needs to look hard at the funding allocations to the fire departments and the EMS.

Klus asked if LaMora had an official document outlining the state auditor’s interpretation.

“Will there be an official letter of this interpretation?” Klus asked. “I would like to be first on the list to receive this letter.”

LaMora said he would get a copy of the letter to Klus.

“I would like to be the first on record to say that I firmly believe this is ridiculous,” Klus said. “I think it is outside the interpretation of how I read the code for hotel/motel reimbursement.”

Klus said he thought commissioners should contact delegates, senators and all elected officials including the governor to say they are “way off base” with the current state code.

LaMora said it is his job to advise the county commission.

“They have been operating the way things have always operated,” LaMora said. “If they knowingly disburse money when they know they are spending it on something that’s incorrect, they can all be charged with misdemeanors. My recommendation to them is I don’t think they should be doing it because I think it violates the code.”

The issue of funding was tabled until an official ruling is made on the motel/hotel tax funding issue.

Tucker County resident Charles Lloyd made a suggestion that LaMora look into the idea of a luxury or service fee to be placed on food, recreation and entertainment in the county. LaMora agreed to look into the idea and possible requirements.

In other business, commission members heard from Appalachian Forest Heritage Area Executive Director Phyllis Baxter. She asked commission members to help support the group by developing a resolution in support of the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area as a National Heritage Area.

“The program is designed as an outreach program for the National Park Service, not a land management program,” Baxter said.

Rosenau said he was apprehensive about voting for the resolution.

“We will not be adding any more public land,” Baxter said. “We are taking no stands on land management. We do not own property and will not tell you what to do with your land.”

Julia Dzaack spoke in support of Baxter and the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area.

“I want to offer my support to what Phyllis has presented to you,” Dzaack said. “I have worked with the AmeriCorp members and coordinated through the AFHA for five years and helped with their programs. I think being the designation will help the AFHA and strengthen their program.”

Contact Beth Christian Broschart by email at bbroschart@theintermountain.com. Follow her on Twitter @IMT_Broschart.