Allegheny Mountain Radio
The atmosphere was less fired-up at the January 3 Pocahontas County Commission meeting than it was at the December 20 meeting, as several people calmly proposed alternative options for funding the creation of a paid Pocahontas County EMS – ambulance service.
At the December meeting, Commissioner John Rebinski had described the imminent collapse of the present volunteer ambulance system because of the declining number of qualified volunteers to staff it. In the face of this decline, Rebinski made a controversial proposal to ensure that ambulances continue to respond to 911 emergency medical calls.
Rebinski proposed that $170,000 be held out from Hotel/Motel Tax receipts that remained after the required and policy mandated funds were distributed. That $170,000 would be used to initially fund the new EMS Service.
Normally, that remaining amount is divided up on a preset percentage among the following six organizations – Artisan’s Co-op (3%); Arts Council (4%); Historic Landmarks Commission (5%); Dramas, Festivals and Fairs (20%); Parks and Recreation (33%); and the Libraries and Visitor Centers (32%.) Under Rebinski’s proposal, those organizations would still receive their percentages of the funds remaining after the $170,000 is deducted.
At the January 3 meeting, Allen Johnson’s idea included a recognition of the EMS ambulance crisis, but cutting back on Hotel/Motel Tax funding from these other organizations would be contentious and hurt those organizations from providing valuable community services. He suggested that those six organizations need to be more accountable to the commission for the funds they receive, and need to also try and raise additional money for themselves by fundraising. Johnson also suggested the commission seek funds from other state and federal sources to help fund EMS, as well as an Excess Levy for EMS. Johnson also said that he could support using Hotel/Motel money to start up the new EMS Service, if it is temporary and based on a percentage rather than a fixed amount of $170,000.
Lauren Bennett likewise presented an alternative, which included Johnson’s ideas and also recognized the importance of funding the new EMS Service. She added that it could be paid for by imposing a county-wide emergency services fee on every county resident by passing an ordinance similar to the existing solid-waste fee imposed on some residents. She agreed with Johnson’s idea that any temporary use of Hotel/Motel Tax money to support EMS be based on a percentage basis rather than a fixed $170,000. She also suggested an administrator/ grant writer be hired for the new service.
The commission voted to open a fund account in their general budget for any funds that will be used for a paid County EMS-Ambulance Service staffed by county employees. However, they did not take any action regarding using Hotel/Motel Tax funds at this time.
Rebinski also questioned the propriety of the Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op being one of the six agencies that receives a percentage of the discretionary Hotel/Motel Tax funds. He suggested that by doing this the commission would be subsidizing the various artist’s private businesses –selling their art. Brenda Harman of the Artisan Co-op said they formed a “for profit” corporation under the non-profit corporation “Artisan Co-op.” to avoid that. Under Rebinski’s questioning Harman admitted that the Hotel/Motel Tax money was used to rent the two studios where the artists sold their art. The Co-op offered to provide the financials of their for-profit corporation to the commission. The commission did not make any decisions on this yet, but will give it more consideration. Commission President Walt Helmick agreed that Rebinski’s questioning of the use of this money was the correct thing to do.
Also at the meeting, Helmick was selected to remain as Commission President, and newly elected commissioner Jamie Walker assumed all the board assignments that former commissioner Jesse Groseclose had, while Rebinski and Helmick kept their current assigned boards, with only one exception, Jamie Walker took the Board of Health assignment from Helmick, who gave him the Senior Citizens.
The 2023 Board of Review and Equalization Dates were set. They are all held in the Commission Office on the following dates and times:
* February 1 at 10 a.m.
* February 7 at 10 a.m.
* February 13 at 10 a.m.
* February 17 at 10 a.m.
* February 21 at 5:45 p.m. during the regular commission meeting.