By Jean A. Flanagan
Following an often contentious discussion, the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority Board of Directors approved a revised budget and voted to submit it to the Hardy County Commission.
The HCEAA board met on Wednesday, May 10.
In March, the HCEAA approved and submitted a budget of $736,884, which included distribution of funds to both Fraley Ambulance Service and the Wardensville Volunteer Rescue Squad. Fraley Ambulance Service, which provides service to the town of Moorefield, South Fork Road area and the western part of the county was allocated $125,000.
Wardensville Rescue Squad, which covers that town and the northeastern side of the county was allocated $60,000.
That budget was rejected by the County Commission at its April 18 meeting. “We need to see a budget in line with the amount of money you are projected to receive,” Commission President Harold Michael said at the April 18 meeting.
[private] Michael also suggested the budget needed to include a line item for equipment replacement.
The revised budget, which totals $692,000 in revenue and expenses, initially allocated $60,000 for Fraley and nothing for Wardensville.
The HCEAA, which covers the Baker-Mathias and southeastern section of the county, is allocated $483,727 in total personnel costs.
“Why doesn’t Wardensville get anything, commissioner?” asked Lost River resident Bill Collins.
William “JR” Keplinger is the County Commission’s representative on the HCEAA board.
“Wardensville is close to Baker and Baker covers Wardensville calls,” Keplinger said.
“That’s only if we don’t have a crew,” said HCEAA Vice President and Wardensville volunteer EMT George Crump.
Historically, of the 20 – 30 calls for service per month Wardensville receives, coverage from the HCEAA is required on 3 -5 calls.
“It’s not meant as an insult,” Keplinger said. “It can be reviewed next year. When you’re doing a budget, you have to look at hard numbers.”
Of the $692,000 in revenue, the budget expects $572,000 to come from the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Fee and $120,000 to come from patient/insurance billing.
“The whole county is paying the fee,” Crump said. “The distribution should be equitable. You’re opening yourself up for another lawsuit.”
The Hardy County Commission, Keplinger and then commissioner J. Michael Teets were sued in Circuit Court for violation of the Open Meetings Laws when they enacted the Emergency Ambulance Fee in 2013. The matter was finally decided by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in June 2016.
A motion was approved to amend the budget to include an allocation of $15,000 for the Wardensville Rescue Squad. It was noted that $15,000 equates to $50 per call per year for Wardensville.
The $60,000 allocated to Fraley is stipulated in the budget “to be used for hiring a night time medic.”
“Can the wordage be changed to say ‘personnel’ instead of medic?” Moorefield resident and Fraley employee Billie Jo Biddle asked? “We all know that medics are hard to find and West Virginia protocols have changed so that EMTs are able to do a lot of things, almost as much as a paramedic.”
“Jay (Fraley) asked for a night time medic in a meeting with myself and Harold (Michael),” HCEAA President Paul Lewis said.
“We need to lessen the burden on the existing crew,” Keplinger said.
“When we start talking about money, we started tearing this county apart again,” Board member and Fraley employee Dave Pratt said. “Why all of a sudden is Fraley ‘a private company?’ It never stopped them from giving us money in the past. Every year, the county commission took money out of the general fund to pay the ambulance squads. Every ambulance squad got some.”
“Now things are different,” Keplinger said. “We have to account for every dollar. It’s not that we don’t appreciate everything Fraley’s has done.”
“So if we pay out bills, we don’t deserve funding?” Pratt asked.
“If you can prove you are as cash strapped as you say,” Keplinger said. “We want to know, the public wants to know, before the hand comes out.”
Pratt went on to say Fraley financial books are open anytime the commission wants to come and look at them. “Jay made that offer to the commission months ago,” he said.
Keplinger said he thought Jay would bring the books to the commissioners to review.
The board voted to submit the amended budget to the commissioners for approval.
The next meeting of the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority will be held on Wednesday, June 21, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Hardy County 911 Center in Moorefield. The public is invited to attend.