PAST DUE: Belhaven will not pay EMS bill at this time

Published 9:02 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2016

BELHAVEN — The Belhaven Board of Aldermen elected to not pay a delinquent, $152,000 bill for EMS services, citing a steep increase of $60,000, at Monday night’s meeting.

Belhaven is used to paying about $90,000 for EMS services and the town pays the bill from property tax revenues, which usually total around $650,000, according to Town Manager Woody Jarvis. The current bill would wipe out close to one-fourth of that revenue, he said.

The bill under dispute is from the county, for the total of White Oak EMS services for fiscal year 2015. It includes two, six-month-long contracts for a truck staffed with an EMT-I and a yearlong contract for an ambulance staffed with a paramedic. The White Oak EMT-I ambulance’s services have been extended in six-month increments, as opposed to yearly contracts, based on a projected reopening of Belhaven’s hospital, according to Beaufort County EMS Director John Flemming.

According to minutes of the committee overseeing Belhaven’s EMS service, in January 2014, the Town of Belhaven entered into a contract with the county to pay 25 percent of the cost for its EMS service, while the county would pick up the rest. According to Flemming, at that time, Belhaven was operating with one intermediate-level truck, and it was decided to increase the level of service from intermediate to paramedic.

In August of 2014, the EMS committee voted to increase fulltime EMS service to two ambulances: one paramedic truck and one intermediate truck.

Since then, the EMS committee has continued to extend these contracts at a cost of $350,000 per year for the paramedic-manned truck and $250,000 per year for the intermediate, in six-month increments. Belhaven members of EMS committee included past-Belhaven Town Manager Guinn Leverett, then-Alderman Vic Cox, Alderman Greg Satterthwaite, and Beaufort County Commissioners Robert Belcher and Hood Richardson, all of who voted to approve the contract extensions, according to Flemming.

However, it is unclear whether the extensions were approved by Belhaven’s Board of Alderman. But Mayor Adam O’Neal said at Monday’s meeting that the Town of Belhaven never agreed to pay the increased costs.

In Monday’s meeting, O’Neal said if the town has to raise taxes to pay for EMS, it means Belhaven would have the highest tax rate in the county.

Residents now pay 7 cents per $100 in property taxes, but the increased amount of EMS costs would push it to 12 cents per $100, according to O’Neal.

“They can’t expect us to pay more than 7 (cents per $100),” he said. “Once again, we’re getting worked on…just like everything else the county does.”

O’Neal called out county Commissioners Frankie Waters, Ron Buzzeo and Gary Brinn for what he sees as a lack of support for Belhaven.

He said the issue goes back to Vidant Pungo Hospital’s closing in 2014, and by reopening the hospital, he believes these EMS costs will no longer be an issue with a hospital in town.

“We need to check this out and get more information, “ Alderman Dr. Charles Boyette said. “I have a problem in looking at the liability that has been thrown on our town and on our people.”

“I did not want to come to this meeting half-cocked,” Jarvis said in response. “(The) county folks have not been able to tell me to my satisfaction how we got to this point.”

Boyette made a motion to table any payment on the bill until more information was gathered, and Alderman Amos Wilson seconded the motion. The board approved it unanimously.

O’Neal said he plans to attend the next county commissioners’ meeting on March 7 to address the issue.


Vail Stewart Rumley contributed reporting.