06/22/04 — Duplin residents protest proposed tax increase

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Duplin residents protest proposed tax increase

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 22, 2004 1:58 PM

FAISON -- Residents told the Duplin County commissioners during a public hearing Monday night to cut the budget or hire a private ambulance service but don't raise their taxes.

The county has said it would have to raise taxes to provide countywide ambulance service.

The commissioners listened to several speakers while they and a crowd of 150 people gathered in the heat, with the fire station bay doors open. They heard four recommendations to look again at the budget and make cuts, four to hire a private ambulance service and four to improve tax collections. Several said don't tax property owners any more, and several others said cut anywhere but education.

County Manager Fred Eldridge told resident Theodore Williams in response to his question that the county has a 94.5 percent tax-collection rate. Eldridge said the budget is balanced at $38.3 million without a tax increase -- if emergency medical service is left out of it. But rescue squads across the county are folding because they don't have enough volunteers.

The proposed budget included a $10 a month "availability fee" per household and business to implement paid EMS countywide.

Resident Clay Grady asked the commissioners to find places to cut.

"Everybody wants EMS," said Grady. "I run a business. I know there's fat to be cut. I had to go back and tweak my budget to survive."

Resident Jimmy Dixon suggested contracting out ambulance services to a private company.

"I recommend we get government out of it and give it to an independent company," he said. "If not, let's settle for basic level service to start with or look at a percentage to cut in every department to cover the cost of this."

Resident Johnny L. Best told commissioners they can impose higher taxes and implement new fees, but the people can vote them out of office. "All we want is an equal share in the money people have got to pay for EMS," he said. "All we're against is the way you're going about doing it."

"Make the people who use the service pay for it," said resident Emil Coggins. "I'd rather see you give it to a collection agency and collect 50 percent of it. A lot of people use EMS for a taxi service."

Resident James Guy said he saw the job Johnston Ambulance Service did covering Warsaw last year, and "I think they did a superb job. I think that would be something to look into. I have a scanner, and I have heard people call the ambulance for a stumped toe. Do you think they pay for that ambulance call? No."

Resident Jim Harris said there has to be a way to attach a fee to everybody, whether they're renters or property owners.

"Homeowners can't carry the load ourselves," Harris said. "We have a large population here who are not property owners."

He and Alice Scott and school board member Emily Manning also asked the commissioners to reconsider the cuts made to the public school budget.