Loss of EMS revenue poses budget nightmare for Washington

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2017

To plug an approximate $300,000 gap in the city’s next budget caused by the loss of $300,000 in EMS-related revenue, one option is to increase the city’s property-tax rate by 3.5 cents per $100 valuation, according to City Manager Bobby Roberson.

That option surfaced Monday as the City Council discussed several EMS-coverage options developed by city staff. Roberson sought the council’s advice on which of several options to pursue, including options might develop.

During the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting Feb. 6, the board’s inaction on several options resulted in their EMS-related actions Oct. 3, 2016, standing, which means the county cancels its $157,256 EMS contract with the city. Not only does the city lose that revenue, it also would lose a similar amount in billing revenue from transports used to support city-provided EMS service, according to city officials.

Those options include the following:

  • adjust the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget by subtracting the contract amount for the city to provide EMS coverage in the Old Ford and Clark’s Neck areas;
  • continue to provide EMS coverage to Washington residents and Washington Park residents under the existing contract between the two municipalities;
  • inform Beaufort County the city intends to turn over all its EMS services to the county’s EMS agency effective July 1;
  • in the upcoming fiscal year, the city continues to discuss EMS coverage with the county and enter into a contract for the city to provide EMS services in the city limits and enter into a contractual arrangement with the county to be paid for providing EMS coverage in the city limits.

Councilman Doug Mercer prefers letting the county provide EMS coverage throughout the entire county.

“Here is a specific item that is the responsibility of the county to provide. It doesn’t say they have to provide the service, but they can contract for the service, as long as they ensure the citizens of Washington have EMS service,” Mercer said. “The citizens of Washington pay their county taxes just like any other citizen in Beaufort County. A portion of that money goes to support EMS. We are not getting that portion of the money back. We should not continue to address EMS in the city unless the county is willing to contribute to the operation of the EMS services within the city. We shouldn’t kick the can down the road for another 12 months.”

Mercer said it’s clear to him the county intends to provide countywide EMS coverage. “If we’re going to have a countywide EMS service, let the county tell us when they’re going to get into the full-blown countywide coverage, and, in the meantime, support the city’s efforts to provide EMS service to the citizens of Washington. Don’t kick the can down the road another 12 months.”

Mayor Mac Hodges said he believes the city is fighting a losing battle when it comes to the EMS issue. Hodges said he’s convinced the county is going to go to countywide EMS coverage, including in the city. “They could leave as broke as the day is long,” Hodges said.

Council members Richard Brooks and William Pitt said they want to keep the existing EMS arrangement the city has with the county, saying it’s worked well for years and should be left alone. “I say if something’s working, don’t mess with it,” Brooks said.

Roberson said if the county completely takes over EMS coverage in the city, that could put nearly a $1 million hole in the city’s budget. “What I’m recommending is an increase in taxes to cover the loss. The reason I’m suggesting that is because there’s no other way to get the revenue, unless you want to transfer it out of the electric fund, and I understand that. We need to have direction on how to measure up the $300,000 shortfall.”

Mercer responded: “I’ve done some rough calculations, and, granted they’re rough. It appears to me that the citizens of Washington are putting $150,000 into the county coffers and going to EMS. The county should be in a position to transfer that $150,000 back to the city. We’re paying it. Why don’t we get it back? … Granted, that doesn’t take care of the full shortage, but it sure puts a big dent in the shortage.”

Roberson said another option to cover the revenue loss would be to transfer money out of the electric fund to the general fund. Yet another option is to increase the property-tax rate by less than 3.5 cents per $100 valuation and transfer money from the electric fund to the general fund, Roberson said.

Roberson reminded the council that if the county does not notify the city by April 1 it’s going to cancel its EMS contract with the city, that contract has an automatic renewal clause. The city has not received that notification, Roberson said. “Subsequently, unless I hear different from you folks, I’m subtracting the $300,000 out of our budget for the upcoming year,” Roberson said.

As for retaining the existing EMS agreement between the city and county, Hodges said, “I’m willing to kick the can down the road. I would prefer to keep it if there is anyway possible.”


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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