Editorial: Seeing red over Rescue Squad

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 11, 2011

The only way to get the Rowan Rescue Squad out of the gray area itís in now is to better define its role ó and its funding ó in black and white.
County commissioners took a step in that direction last week, but not without making some people see red.
County Commissioner Jim Sides publicly called out the squadís chief, Coyt Karriker, for discussing funding with individual commissioners instead of the full board. Sides also took issue with Karrikerís request to the county attorney to draft a proposed five-year contract. And he pointed out that county funding of the squad had climbed up to $400,000 a year.
The heated words seemed to brush aside the research Commissioner Raymond Coltrain had just presented, comparing the Rowan Rescue Squadís funding to similar agencies in nearby or same-sized counties.
Mondayís flap continued a contentious conversation about the Rescue Squadís request for a $68,000 increase in August 2010. The issue goes back several years, actually, as commissioners have tried to get a handle on where the squadís money comes from and where it goes. The squadís leaders have said their books are open, but the information shared has not satisfied Sides or Carl Ford.
The Rescue Squad is an independent agency with its own board of directors. In addition to county funds, it gets money through United Way and its own fundraisers. With money coming in from several directions and the squad asking for more, some commissioners ó and taxpayers ó would like to see more accountability from the squad.
The simple but costly answer is to bring the Rescue Squad in-house, dovetail it with the current EMS operation and make its employees accountable through the countyís chain of command. The two agencies already overlap in some functions ó another gray area that needs clarification ó and the squad backs up EMS when it is overloaded.
The county is hardly in a position to expand its realm, though. An alternative is to base the Rescue Squadís county funding on a specific tax, much like the fire taxes that help fund volunteer fire departments. The squad would have to get commissionersí OK before it could put any type of tax increase before the voters.
That might solve the funding issue, but it probably would not completely clear up the accountability issue.
Now Sides and Commissioner Jon Barber have volunteered for a new committee to discuss the squadís protocols, budget, services provided and funding methods. Working out such complicated issues will require openness and collaboration. That sounds impossible, considering the tactics displayed so far ó impossible but imperative.