Council, mayor clash over EMS center

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, September 12, 2007

By Staff
Officials, residents agree new facility would help the town
Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — Town officials and residents agree a new emergency medical services center would benefit the town.
That was evident during the Town Council’s meeting Monday. What the mayor, council members and residents could not agree on is how to pay for the $4 million project.
The new EMS center would require an annual payment of $117,400 by the town for 30 years. With the town’s EMS service expected to generate $35,000 in revenue a year, that would require the town to find $82,400 each year to add to the $35,000 to cover the annual payment, according to O’Neal. That debt service would satisfy the interest payment on two loans totaling $1.975 million from the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Center, he said. O’Neal said the new facility would require a $410,645 initial payment, which would come from the town’s general fund.
Belhaven resident Karen Fisher did her own calculations. Fisher said she determined that at $82,400 per year, each of Belhaven’s 1,900 residents would be responsible for $43.37 per year, or $3.61 per month.
O’Neal said spending $4 million on a new EMS center “shows not much concern for the struggles of people with high utility bills.” He said that on Election Day a referendum should be held to canvass town residents about their willingness to pay for expenses associated with the project
Councilman Charles Boyette said O’Neal provided “all the negatives” without considering the positive effects a new EMS center would have on the town. He said the town must find ways to “fix needs,” whatever the cost, citing a list of multimillion-dollar, public-works projects that have provided “infrastructure here that can support business.”
O’Neal said he agrees the town needs to find ways to meet its needs, but he disagreed with Boyette’s claim that a new EMS center is the answer.
Town Manager Tim Johnson said that raising utility bills to pay for the center would be illegal, as would be holding a referendum on the issue.
After discussion, the council authorized Johnson to take $410,000 from the town’s reserve fund to make the initial payment on the project and apply for a $475,000 loan from the Rural Development Center. Councilman Steve Carawan voted against the authorization.