Allegheny Mountain Radio
At the December 20 County Commission Meeting, when the time came to discuss Commissioner John Rebinski’s proposal to fund a county paid EMS Service from Hotel/Motel Tax revenue – the commission had to adjourn the meeting from their office and reconvene it a few minutes later in the courtroom. The move was necessary to accommodate the large crowd that was in attendance.
Rebinski proposal is to help fund EMS Service by cutting back on some of the money other organizations receive from the tax.
People representing both sides of this issue filled the courtroom. The attendees were composed of volunteer EMS members and supporters as well as representatives and supporters of organizations which could lose revenue if Hotel/Motel Tax monies were to be diverted to EMS services.
“To begin with, there have been a lot of things going around and being said to the wrong people, and they have been targeted,” Rebinski said. “I want to let you know if anybody has any disapproval or approval or is mad at anybody, be mad at me, not some of the people that have been targeted who have been falsely blamed and accused. Put it this way, I am standing right here.”
Rebinski explained the purpose of the discussion was to address the EMS Services crisis in the county. He said that, for many years, volunteer EMS providers have served the people of the county and saved the county a lot of money, but there are now very few people willing to undergo the very lengthy and difficult training and schooling necessary to be qualified to provide emergency medical services on the ambulances. He said that many current EMS volunteers are very concerned that there are not enough new volunteers joining up to ensure that an ambulance will always be available 24 hours a day if someone calls 911 needing emergency medical help. Rebinski said with so few qualified EMS volunteers left in the county, those who are, like himself, give up just about everything else in their lives, such as vacations, or just going out of town shopping or doing something personally enjoyable for themselves, lest someone might not receive a timely medical response, or even receive any response when they are suffering an emergency medical crisis.
Rebinski said that State Code requires that County Commissions ensure that there is full ambulance coverage in their counties, and so he is making a proposal to divert $170,000 of the discretionary portion of the Hotel/Motel Tax Revenues to hire paid EMS staff, who would be county employees once hired. They would be staffing the day shifts at the volunteer departments in the Northern part of the county, and the program would, as quickly as possible, be expanded to cover the day shifts in the rest of the county. He said the current volunteers would be able to cover the evening and night responses once relieved of the responsibilities of covering the daytime shifts.
When Pocahontas County Clerk Deputy Lisa Workman attempted to show exactly how Rebinski’s Hotel/Motel Tax proposal would work, she was shouted down by one person in the audience. So, we obtained the following information from a spreadsheet provided by the clerk’s office.
It was pointed out that because Hotel/Motel Tax revenue has been much larger than projected over recent years, the organizations who receive a percentage of it have actually received a much larger amount of money over those years than they were budgeted to receive.
The proposal would not prevent any organization from receiving its same percentage of the Hotel/Motel Tax revenue that is not committed by county policy or state law.
The state requires that 50 percent of the total Hotel Motel Tax revenue go to each county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, and county policy has been to give the hospital $75,000; EMS $75,000; the Fire Board $50,000; and $20,000 to its Bricks and Motor budget for repairs on the courthouse and other county buildings.
Once those have been deducted from the total amount of Hotel/Motel Tax received, the remaining tax revenue is divided up on a percentage basis to the following organizations:
• Preserving Pocahontas, 3%
• Artisan’s Co-op, 3%
• Arts Council, 4%
• Historic Landmarks Commission, 5%
• Dramas, Fairs and Festivals, 20%
• Parks and Recreation, 33%
• Pocahontas County Libraries and Visitor Information Centers, 32%
Rebinski’s proposal would simply remove another $170,000 before the remaining money is given to the above discretionary organizations. Each of them would still receive their funds based upon their already existing percentage.
Rebinski said this arrangement will only be temporary to prevent an imminent crisis that could cost lives if an ambulance fails to respond to an emergency call, but a permanent funding solution will be necessary in the future.
The EMS people in the audience obviously supported the proposal, while some people from other organizations objected, feeling there should be a better way than hurting valuable community organizations. Some people suggested that since the EMS organizations bill a patient’s medical insurance when they provide ambulance service, that should be sufficient, however Rebinski and others pointed out that insurance companies usually only pay a very small portion of an ambulance bill, if anything at all.
Sam Gibson objected to the proposal, saying it is just taking money from one group and giving it to another group, and the county should have seen this crisis coming years ago and fixed it then.
Many others expressed similar problems and objections to this plan.
Commission President Walt Helmick said that Rebinski’s plan really only takes a little of the growth out of a rapidly increasing Hotel/Motel Tax revenue stream.
The commission will consider what action to take on this, if any, in the upcoming months.
In other matters, the commission:
• approved for County Prosecutor Terri Helmick to hire Ryan Jackson as a full-time Assistant Prosecutor to replace Keith McMillion who leaves at the end of December. Jackson will receive $70,000 annual salary plus full benefits.
• authorized Parks and Recreation to maintain the county-owned former FEMA lots in East Cass. This will mostly be grass cutting on some of the lots. Parks and Recreation offered to do this.
• appointed Brad Hertko to the Historic Landmarks Commission Board and received the annual update from the Historic Landmarks Commission.
• received the annual report on Preserving Pocahontas from B.J. Gudmundsson.
• approved for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital to apply for a $2-million hospital expansion grant from the Appalachian Regional Com- mission (ARC).
• approved the O & M agreement with Citynet which will address ownership and maintenance of the fiber-optic broadband service lines to be built with funds from the ARC Broadband Grant. This approval was required to move forward with this project.
• voted to extend the Governor’s offer for county employees to take a half-day off on December 23 to giving them the full day off.