Chocowinity EMS budget on the chopping block, sees more deductions

Published 6:51 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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Chocowinity EMS has watched its budget be chopped not once, but twice in the last month. 

Their budget for fiscal year 2024-2025 has been reduced to $730,000 which is a 55% decrease from last fiscal year’s budget of $1.6 million. They were initially planning for a budget of $960,000, but it was reduced again earlier this week. 

The primary reasons for the cuts are the termination of non-medical emergency transportation and the addition of an ambulance at Blounts Creek. 

Chocowinity EMS provided non-medical emergency transportation to residents within their district spanning town limits and a portion of Blounts Creek. Residents could request transportation to doctor’s appointments, dialysis appointments, between hospitals and more. According to Chocowinity EMS director Derrick Myers, they received over 1,000 calls for transportation last year. These were patients who needed to be transported by EMS for safety reasons, he said. They could not use the Beaufort County Area Transportation System or travel by private vehicle, he explained. 

Residents who used the service paid $721 through either Medicare or Medicaid. 

However, the service ended in May in order to give his staff time to look for other employment. Myers anticipated that non-medical emergency transportation would be cut from their budget which meant a potential loss of five employees and the loss of a second EMS truck used for the service, he shared in an earlier interview with the Daily News. 

Non-medical emergency transportation was not generating enough revenue to justify offering the service. It is predicted to not generate enough revenue in the future, shared Chocowinity Police Chief and town budget officer Ralph Whitehurst. 

It was meant to be a self-sufficient service in addition to paying for a second ambulance. This, according to Chocowinity town council, “never happened” since the service began in 2015. They discussed the EMS budget during a meeting on Tuesday, June 18. 

According to the Town of Chocowinity, its EMS service in fiscal year 2023-2024 received $511,000 from EMS taxes collected by Beaufort County and another $450,000 in billings. It generated $350,000 in transportation revenue for a total of $1,311,000. Its expenses for that year were $1,613,204 for a difference of $302,204. 

The estimated revenue from taxes and billing will remain the same for fiscal year 2024-2025. With transportation taken out of the budget, its total revenue will be $961,000. Its estimated total expense is listed as $885,979 for a difference of $75,021. 

For context, basic operational costs are an estimated $678,000 to operate an ambulance per year, Whitehurst based this number on data from Beaufort County Emergency Medical Services. 

Whitehurst said Chocowinity EMS (sans non-medical emergency transportation) is expected to make $770,000 in revenue this year. 

On Tuesday, Myers requested permission from the town council to ask county commissioners if the town could be part of a billing service through the county. If that were to happen, Chocowinity EMS could charge residents $2,100 per non-medical emergency transport. It is doubtful that this will happen, because Chocowinity town council must approve its budget by June 30, but the next county commissioners meeting is Monday, July 1. 

Even still, billing residents $2,100 would not cover the expected revenue loss, Whitehurst said. 

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted on Monday, June 17 in favor of Blounts Creek acquiring an ambulance as part of their budget ordinance. The ambulance, already owned by Beaufort County Emergency Medical Services, would be an addition to Blounts Creek Quick Response Vehicle (a SUV). The Quick Response Vehicle can provide paramedic service, but cannot transport patients. The ambulance will now allow Blounts Creek EMS to transport patients in critical care to a hospital. 

Because Blounts Creek will have an ambulance, Chocowinity EMS is expected to lose $102,000 in revenue and Aurora EMS is expected to lose around $30,000 in revenue. Aurora covered a portion of Blounts Creek not already serviced by Chocowinity, county commissioners discussed during a special called meeting to approve their budget on Monday, June 17.  

“When [county commissioners] voted to put an EMS truck in Blounts Creek, we were covering probably three-fourths of that area of Blounts Creek’s fire district and Aurora was covering probably about a third of it. When they voted to put a truck there, they would pull the funding that we were covering of that area out of what they give us. So, that was $102,000 they would pull from our tax money for the EMS. The billing money that would have collected due to the calls they were running in that area – the county’s numbers came out to be about $50,000 that had to be a further cut out of EMS budget, because we’re losing that area of service, because they are putting a full-time truck in Blounts Creek,” Whitehurst explained. 

Whitehurst referenced a $50,000 amount that is projected to come out of Chocowinity EMS billings. 

With the non-medical emergency transportation service defunct in Chocowinity, each municipality has only one ambulance in its district. 

Chocowinity council members have yet to vote on their annual budget. Their next meeting is Tuesday, June 25 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall (3391 Hwy 17, Chocowinity).