Sparks fly over funding for rescue squad

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners appointed a committee Monday to look at the funding and services of the Rowan County Rescue Squad.
The board agreed that the rescue squad needs to be consistently funded, but they were split over who should evaluate that funding.
Commissioner Jim Sides also criticized the squad’s chief for “underhanded” behavior, saying Coyt Karriker talked to individual commissioners about funding and asked the county attorney to come up with a draft contract.
County Attorney Jay Dees modified the rescue squad’s annual contract to a five-year term and submitted the draft for discussion Monday.
Chairman Chad Mitchell said some have suggested funding the rescue squad out of Rowan County property taxes and not giving it taxing authority.
But the issue still would come up every budget year, he said.
“The only way that we can look at this funding, try to place it at a level where it should be — where we want it to be — and then guarantee it for any length of time is to have a contract,” Mitchell said.
Commissioner Jon Barber first moved that the county direct Emergency Services Director Frank Thomason to meet with the county EMS director to work out “operational issues” with the contract and bring it back to commissioners for approval.
Barber said the rescue squad has been operating on a rolling contract since 1999, and it’s time to make a long-term agreement.
Mitchell seconded the motion, but it failed 2-3.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain said funding for the volunteer fire departments is based on a fire tax for their individual districts, and it could work the same way with the rescue squad.
“If they need additional funding through a tax increase, they have to have a public hearing, and then they bring the request to us,” he said.
Coltrain then moved that the board appoint a committee to discuss the protocols, budget, services provided and funding methods for the rescue squad.
That motion was approved 3-2, with Barber and Mitchell dissenting. Barber and Sides volunteered to sit on the committee.
Vice Chairman Carl Ford said he appreciates the rescue squad and understands the importance of drawing up a long-term contract, but it needs to be done properly.
Sides said the county’s funding to the nonprofit organization has doubled since 2007 from $199,000 to $400,000. He said he supports the rescue squad, but the county should look closely at how it fits in with the county’s emergency services and volunteer fire departments.
“Exactly what services should they provide to the county and at what cost?” Sides said. “Should they continue forever as an outside nonprofit agency funded by the county but under no direct county control?”
Sides directed some pointed comments at the rescue squad chief.
Karriker talked about the issue to one or two commissioners, Sides said, who recommended that he “nail down” rescue squad funding with a contract.
Sides said Karriker then asked that the county attorney draw up such a contract, without the full board’s knowledge or approval. He said the chief had no authority to do that.
“I’m utterly disgusted, Coyt, that you’d go behind our backs,” Sides said. “You ought to come to all of the commissioners when you have a request.”
After the meeting, Karriker approached Sides at the commissioner’s seat.
“You are totally out of line with your accusat-ions,” Karriker said.
He declined to comment further Monday.
Mitchell said after the meeting that he did talk to Karriker about rescue squad funding, but that isn’t unusual for commissioners.
He said Dees didn’t spend a lot of time looking over the draft contract, so significant costs were not involved.
“We all talk to staff, and we all ask staff to do things,” Mitchell said. “If we’re going to be totally hands off, then every request needs to come before the board.”
During the meeting, Coltrain also presented some research he had done with Thomason.
Their study compared the way rescue services are provided and funded in Rowan, Iredell, Union, Alamance, Catawba, Nash, Pitt and New Hanover counties.
The counties studied with the most similar population and demographics to Rowan are Alamance, Catawba, Iredell and Nash. Coltrain said these all depend on county funding and donations for rescue services.
Rowan County funds its rescue services at $2.89 per resident, compared to $0.32 in Alamance, $1.66 in Nash, $3.80 in Iredell and $6.45 per resident in Catawba.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
In other business
Rowan County Commissioners also:
• Accepted the low bid from Bank of America Public Capital Corporation to finance construction of the county’s new E-911 facility.
The county will borrow $9.7 million at an interest rate of 2.38 percent, resulting in interest costs of nearly $1.2 million.
• Decided not to host a public forum about a roundabout at Sherrills Ford and Briggs roads, to avoid giving the impression that the county is responsible for this proposal or any secondary roads.
The board did agree to provide a meeting space if N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, who suggested the forum, wants to host it.
Opinions shared would be passed on in a letter to N.C. Department of Transportation officials.
• Approved the name of Shadow Creek Trail for a road running south off the 2200 block of Daugherty Road. No one spoke during a public hearing, but two out of three property owners signed a petition in support of the name.
• Accepted about $1,800 in a first-responder training and exercise program grant through the federally-funded State Homeland Security Program.
The board also allowed the emergency services department to seek additional funds up to about $61,700 for conducting local disaster training exercises.
• Accepted $2,000 in infection control training funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
• Waived county animal shelter adoption fees for Faithful Friends.
• Modified the existing ambulance franchise for the Enochville Fire and Rescue Department to change the service provider level from EMT-Intermediate to EMT-Basic.
• Authorized the sale of 14 surplus vehicles from the sheriff’s office, eight from Rowan Transit Services, one from the parks department, one from animal control and one from the cooperative extension.
• Set a public hearing for Nov. 21 for the renaming of Berkhamstead Lane to Stone Castle Way.
• Approved a proclamation honoring Nov. 11 as Veterans Day in Rowan County.