By Lois Lambert
The Parsons Advocate
The Tucker County Commission received representatives of two emergency services providers, Tucker County Ambulance Authority and Parsons Volunteer Fire Department, at their regular meeting.
Bobby Phillips, President of the Tucker County Ambulance Authority read into the record a letter from the authority asking for their assistance with funding needs. Phillips stated that this funding is needed due to aging equipment and the need for 24 hour a day staffing at two stations.
Phillips said, “We have two ambulances in our fleet which are 16 years old and two of the newer ambulances in our fleet have over 100,000 miles on them. The mechanical dependability of our units is of primary importance in providing the necessary services to our residents and visitors.” Phillips added that 1.5 million visitors and residents rely on these services being available.
Phillips added that staffing two stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week is becoming a necessity.
“We would like to have a paramedic on duty at two stations.” Phillips stated
Phillips went on to say that he would like the support of the commission on a $36 per year voluntary fee to be collected from every household in the county. He also stated the possibility of passing a levy, but stated it would take over a year and a half to get a levy on the ballot. Phillips said, “If we could get a levy, we could cut out the voluntary fee.”
If 65% of the residents pay the fee, we would raise approximately $20,000.
Commissioner Mike Rosenau said “Volunteer basis is what I like. I don’t want a mandatory tax.”
Rosenau stated, “I have nothing against your board asking for a voluntary payment.”
Commissioner Diane Hinkle added, “I think that’s a great approach”.
The commission agreed with the volunteer approach, but did not take any action on providing additional funding.
Tom Klus, Parsons Volunteer Fire Department Treasurer, appeared in full firefighter’s gear, to ask if a decision had been made on the prior funding request of $20,000 (in addition to the Hotel/Motel tax funding they already receive) for Parsons Volunteer Fire Department and in fairness for each of the other three county fire departments. This would be a total of $80,000 additional revenue, increasing the present funding of $65,000 per year to $145,000.
Klus presented each commissioner with a 30 amp vehicle fuse to demonstrate the increase in costs the fire department incurs today. “In the good old days this would have been 34 cents for the fuse and about an hour’s time to replace it.” Klus went on to say that when the radio stopped working in the truck some of the guys tore into it to replace the fuse. Being unable to locate the fuse panel, they called Staley. Klus continued,” In the new days, PVFD signed a memo of understanding about the radios in the fire trucks. Staley came out and replaced the fuse and tested the unit, fulfilling the memo of understanding and stated the unit is now in repair.” Klus presented the commission with an invoice to show the” New Day” cost being $155.
Klus went on to state the funding is needed because Worker’s Compensation is going to do nothing but increase.
“The training sessions you have given us over the last couple of weeks has brought questions on our side, too. As far as where funding is coming from.” Rosenau said.
“In order to explain to you, there are different pots we draw from in our budget. One is our general fund; one is also hotel/motel. Of the allocations from the hotel/motel tax, 25% went to the fire companies and EMS. With that allocation is where you get the budget number of $65,000 going to the fire departments out of that pot.” Rosenau said.
Rosenau went on to say that questions have been raised as to whether the commission can continue to use hotel/motel tax to fund fire departments and EMS. “If we can no longer give that to the EMS and fire companies, we are going to have to, out of our general tax base, take money from that to give to the fire companies and EMS.”
Ray LaMora, Tucker County Prosecuting Attorney, addressed the hotel/motel tax issue, stating that he had followed up with the auditor’s office and was waiting to get information from another attorney who helped create the hotel/motel tax bill.
LaMora said, “As far as the auditors office is concerned, they did agree with my reading of the state code and they feel that disbursement cannot be made to fire departments and EMS out of hotel/motel because Tucker County does not meet 7:18:14:9. One of the sections on there was to have one and only one hospital and recurring flooding. Tucker County no longer has a hospital or recurring flooding.” LaMora stated that he thinks the county commission needs to look hard at how they are going to change that funding allocation.
Klus asked if Mr. LaMora had this interpretation in writing, to which Mr. LaMora stated that he did not, it had all been by telephone calls.
Klus asked, “Will there be an official letter of that interpretation? I feel that the official notice should be public record. Then, I would have the right to appeal such a decision based on the code. I would like to be first on the list to receive such a letter so that I could proceed with my constitutional right to question the decision of my government administration.”
LaMora said that he would get a letter as soon as possible from whoever is required, the auditor or state tax department and give it to the commission to have Clerk Simmons make it a public record in a miscellaneous book or wherever it needs to be.
“With that being said, and with the impact of that,” Klus emphatically stated, “I would like to be the first on the record to say that I firmly believe that it’s totally ridiculous and outside the interpretation of how I read the code for hotel/motel reimbursement.”
Klus let it be known that he thought the commission should be contacting the delegates, senators, all elected officials (including the governor) to let them know they are way off base with this interpretation of the code.
LaMora stated that it is his job to advise the commission and his recommendation to them is that they should not be disbursing the hotel/motel tax to the EMS and fire departments because he believes it violates state code. He stated that the commission had been operating the way it’s always been operating, but he added that the commissioners could all be charged with a misdemeanor if they knowingly disperse money on something that is incorrect.
Hinkle and Rosenau stated that they did not disagree with the points that Klus was making, but that the commission had to operate within the law.
Hinkle said, “We are not the enemy.”
The funding request for the PVFD was tabled until the legality of the hotel/motel tax is resolved.
Charles Lloyd, speaking as a resident, suggested that the commission and LaMora look into the possibility of a luxury tax or service fee to be added to all recreation and entertainment in the county. The commission agreed to look into this matter.
On a completely different matter, Phyllis Baxter, Executive Director of the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, asked for the commission’s support in of the AFHA seeking National Heritage Area designation. She stated that this designation would provide national recognition, credibility and the opportunity for substantial funding for long-term development. Baxter said, “We are asking that you write a letter, resolution to our board saying that you would support this.”
Baxter stated that the Heritage Area program is a grants and outreach program for the National Park Service.
Rosenau stated, “ As you know, over 50% of our land is owned by state or federal government, so I’m really apprehensive about giving my vote to adding more.”
Baxter stated, “We very clearly and from the very beginning said that we are not land management. We do not own property and we will not be adding any public lands.”
When asked, Baxter told Commissioner Rosenau, “ We will not tell you what to do with your land.”
Julia Dzaack spoke in support of Baxter’s request. “I am here to offer my support to what Phyllis has just presented to you. I think that being able to let the AFHA get this national recognition will help them strengthen opportunities they are already providing throughout the area and would add depth to their program.” Said Dzaack. “I would encourage you to consider it real thoughtfully and offer your support.”
The commission will consider the matter and it will be taken up at a later date.
In other business, the commission voted to hire Mr. Dilly as clerk of the works for another month.
The next commission meeting will be Wednesday, September 11,2013 at 9a.m. in the Tucker County Courthouse Courtroom.