06/29/04 — Duplin postpones privatization of EMS

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Duplin postpones privatization of EMS

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 29, 2004 1:56 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin commissioners will shop around next year for proposals from private emergency medical companies to consider for fiscal 2005-06.

But they decided in a split vote Monday that they're not going to consider it for the coming fiscal year. Commissioners Zettie Williams and Arliss Albertson, who raised the subject of an interim budget, didn't want to put it off.

Commissioners will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the County Administration Building to try to adopt a budget.

Commissioner Chairman L.S. Guy said emergency medical service is a complex issue involving what commissioners have talked about and probably a lot of other things they have not talked about. Before they started chopping on the budget, he said the county had so many needs it would have taken a 33-cent tax increase of each $100 worth of real property.

"We simply do not have all the money needed to do all the things that are needed," he said. "I believe things will get better, but not in the next fiscal year ... We care very much about the taxpayer in Duplin County ..."

But he said commissioners are reaching a point where they have to do something.

Duplin has had no growth, said Arliss Albertson. "Five or six hog houses have closed down ... I've seen nice homes in the countryside that have not sold, grass growing up around them ..."

Myrle Beringer said he feels that a county-run system best. Duplin has had a blessing, he said, "maybe a luxury of having volunteers meet our emergency needs. Now, that is in jeopardy."

Commissioner Larry Howard moved to postpone considering any private company, and Beringer seconded.

Howard said he meant nothing against Johnston Ambulance Service, which proposed to provide paramedic level service for the county next year. But he doesn't want to see EMS privatized.

"Mama used to tell me if it looks too good to be true, it probably is," Howard said. "It' don't bother me if I'm voted out of office, and I've got no problem raising taxes 3.5 cents if it will save EMS."

Howard was the only commissioner to vote against another motion to look for other proposals from EMS companies to consider for fiscal '05-06.

Jason Crowell, director of business development for Johnston Ambulance Service, and his chief executive officer, Jeff White, spoke a second time to commissioners Monday, answering questions and reassuring commissioners that they don't want to take over the role of the volunteers, but to enhance their service.

County Manager Fred Eldridge said privatization in 2005-06 would reduce costs to the county by about $2 million. L.S. Guy called for public comment from the audience of about 45 people, some standing along the wall.

Johnny Best, Thurman Herring and Faison Fire Chief Glen Jernigan opposed it.