By Jennifer Britt
The Parsons Advocate
Tucker County Ambulance Authority Treasurer, Chris Davis, explained the need for the Tucker County EMS levy tax. Currently the residents of Tucker County pay $50 once a year ordinance fee. The ordinance was put into effect for the need of more funding for the EMS program. The new proposed levy tax will change the amount paid and the way the tax is paid. Davis explained the reasons as to why the levy is needed at the special meeting held by the Tucker County Commission.
The biggest need is for two EMS stations staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days. Currently there are only two facilities open for medical treatment during the week, the St. George Medial Clinic and Mountain Top Health Clinic. There are limited weekend hours with absolutely no medical facility to cover anything for a substantial portion of the county. Davis stated, “And so when we look at EMS, we have to offer 24-hour service because even though medical facilities are open, there’s a lot of times people may go there and then are transported to the hospital.”
With two stations in a drawn area, one up on the mountain and one in Parsons, residents are at risk of not having the needed EMS services available. For example, if Station One must travel clear to the other end of the Tucker County or vice versa with Station Two, it is going to be difficult to get there in a timely manner. Especially with the status of one paramedic stationed at a time, rotating between stations. There is not enough staff to have paramedics on duty at both stations. Davis said, “These are things that we have to improve.”
The goal of the Ambulance Authority is providing the ideal staff of seven paramedics and seven EMTs. A Medical Director, office manager/bookkeeper, contract accountant and reserve part-time cadre for on-call and sick or vacationing staffing are among the support staff needed to function for the optimal care needed. Dr. Martin, the current Medical Director, is a state mandated position and oversees the EMS program.
Davis commented, “Just keeping people employed and working is the biggest expense to our program. We need to attract and retain qualified EMS personnel to Tucker County by paying a reasonable competitive wage. After all our lives are in their hands.” The present Tucker County EMT salary is $13.50 per hour. Paramedic’s salary is $16.00 per hour. Both are some the lowest in the state. Davis and the other board members are working towards a goal of $16 per hour for EMTs and $19 for paramedics.
With the monies from the ordinance fee changes have been made. Those changes include going from one station being fully staffed and every now and again on different days at the other station to have staff at both stations on a regular basis. There are 100 to 120 calls per month and 40 percent of them are non-billed calls. The state mandates the EMS stations must respond to car wrecks whether the crew does anything or not and regardless of it is 30, 20 or five miles away. During these calls if no one is injured or transported for medical treatment then the call in non-billed.
To help with money management the Ambulance Authority Board has engaged an outside accountant to provide financial guidance. The accountant also provides professional services to support decision making to manage costs while delivering the best possible quality services to Tucker County citizens and visitors. Part of the budget going forward is to build an escrow account to keep ambulances up to date with the hopes of buying a new or low mileage ambulance every couple of years. These newer ambulances will replace the one getting in bad shape.
The proposed budget for the 2022/2023 year for the Ambulance Authority falls short of needed funding. The expenditures include Labor ($976,063), Administrative ($115,800), Equipment O&M ($93,000), Equipment Replacement ($146,000) and Miscellaneous Expenses ($52,207) total to $1,383,070. Revenues include Medical Billing Receipts ($480,000), Tucker County Commission ($110,000), a capped Hotel/Motel Tax Collection ($100,000), and EMS Ordinance ($200,000) totals $890,000. This leaves a shortfall of $493,070, and the reason for the proposed levy tax.
Davis stated, “Asking for help from the community for the levy. That is where the levy is at least going to make up a portion of the budget difference. To make things a little bit easier to improve.”
The proposed levy on personal and real estate property, starting July 1, 2022, for four years will have the following rates: (cents per $100 of assessed value):
- Class II 3.88 cents (Personal Residence/Farms)
- Class III 7.76 cents (Rental Business/All Other)
- Class IV 7.76 cents (Municipality)
There will be a capped levy amount of $401,872 and the proposed levy tax will be in place for the years 2022 to 2025. After 2025 the new levy will have to be passed to continue funding via this mechanism. Rates are based upon 2022 assessed values and as value goes up, rates go down to maintain levy cap. Assessed value is 60 percent of the appraised value and most households will be in the Class II category.
Some examples of the levy tax are:
- Assessed Value $50,000 for Class II the tax will be $19.40, Class II and Class III $38.80;
- Assessed Value $75,000 for Class II the tax will be $29.10, Class II and Class III $58.20;
- Assessed Value $100,000 for Class II the tax will be $38.80, Class II and Class III $77.60;
- Assess Value $275,000 for Class II the tax will be $106.70, Class II and Class III $213.40.
Davis explained the need for the levy tax by saying: “Looking at the two ambulances running. The concern being is if one is running and that is all we have running, and there is a call. And they may be on a call for six to eight hours, especially if it is a transport situation. And if that call turns into an eight-hour situation what if something else happens in the county. If something else happens there may not be anything for anyone to be able to do other than throw them in your truck and drive them to a hospital yourself. And unfortunately, that is where we are going be if we do not get that funding. And that is our concern. Understand it is a cost for the tax, but we are looking at the detriment of the community or the county would need paramedic and EMT team in each rig for 24 hours with one located in Parsons and the other on the mountain covering each end of the county.”
The public was able to comment on the live video played on the Tucker County Commission Facebook page and it may answer questions some residents may have concerning the levy tax. Those comments included:
Chad Duran from Thomas asked: “I pay the fee every year as I feel it is vitally important as well as the fire fee and WVSP fee on my phone bill. Why are we doing away with the fee??? Can the commission just keep it in place??” The Commission responded to his question with this answer: “Per State Code, The Special EMS Ordinance Fee was put into place after three readings by the County Commission. There was no requirement for a vote by the public. Commissioners at that time felt that was what was best to provide services to the citizens of Tucker County.”
Duran in return asked: “I fully understand that, and I agree with its implementation. My statement was questioning its replacement with a levy. What happens if the levy fails? Does the fee stay in effect?” The Commission answered by saying: “it is a County Ordinance that remains in effect until it is either amended or repealed. It is up to the current Commissioners what they choose to do, if anything, dependent upon the results of the levy.”
Keith Strausbaugh from Davis commented: “The levy is the way to go it seems”
Chantel Jones from Parsons: “I think that the voters just want a budget of how the money is distributed before they vote…If the EMS could be transparent with the funding, I think it would help the voters decide.”
Mandy Simmons: “If we do not have the levy, we will be down to one crew. The 50 is out the window the moment that you vote either way. So, either you vote for two crews or one that is the choice. The levy everyone will have to pay no exclusions. And if you believe that the county can run on one crew then vote no to the levy. It is that simple. No one from another county is going to come in to run EMS. Have tried and failed. The one ran transports and took the money commission gave them and ran. Again, you are essentially voting for one or two crews. Yes or No.” Sue Smith responded to Mandy Simmons comment with: “this sums it up perfectly. As a full time, resident, and voter in Tucker County, I would love to see three crews, but understand that is not currently in the cards. Two is better than one.”
Eric Rudy said: “If the levy is for Ambulance service, then it should be for emergency services only not transport. Transport should be an outside service.” Dennis Filler responded to Rudy with: “As a matter of policy, we not in the transport business.”
Jim Riley had this to say: “I oppose the levy 1. because our HOA was duped by the Authority into supporting the Fee, then closed the Canaan Valley station anyway, and 2. the levy wording does not rescind the Fee. If their intent is to rescind the fee, put that in the levy, but do not expect us to take you on your word that proved worthless. Citizens, vote this down.” Scott Kennedy responded to Riley by saying: “the closing of station three was not the decision of EMS. That was beyond our control.”
Davis’ last comment included: “The one question that seems to be coming up is funds. Realize that each year an audit takes place by an outside organization to go over where funds are spent and to account for everything. All of the audits have been done and each year have passed. No misappropriation of funds is happening. All money collected with the fee that was enacted by the county commission has been used to improve coverage of the county at two stations not one which is what was taking place before the fee was in acted. As per the Canaan Valley Station the authority have worked hard to keep two stations running. We do not have the staff for three stations but was using station three at times as my understanding. Canaan Valley fire department made the decision to not extend our rent of the space to the authority any longer. We attempted to work out a schedule to use the facility as a reasonable accommodation, however they went ahead with the decision and we were asked to vacate the premises. I realize that the past concerns are there, but many members of the authority are new and are working hard toward helping with understanding. ”
The Tucker County Commission will host a special meeting on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, at 6 p.m. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Courtroom of the Tucker County Courthouse located on the third floor at 215 First Street, Parsons. The meeting will also be streamed live on Facebook on the Tucker County Commission page to allow for greater county-wide and COVID friendly participation. The purpose of the special session is to discuss the budget of Tucker County Ambulance Authority, the proposed levy and Commission funding. The session will be followed by a question/answer session.