07/01/04 — Duplin board raises taxes to pay for EMS

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Duplin board raises taxes to pay for EMS

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 1, 2004 2:00 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Property owners in Duplin County will pay 2.5 cents more on the tax rate following the approval Wednesday of the county commissioners' new budget.

The tax increase will be used to pay for phasing in countywide ambulance service that will have a paid staff.

The commissioners decided Monday not to accept a private company's offer to run emergency medical services. The board also decided that the new EMS workers would be trained at an intermediate level rather than as paramedics. Paramedic service would cost more, but the workers would have a higher level of training and be able to perform more lifesaving procedures.

Residents attending the meeting Wednesday were not happy with the tax increase. Some asked the commissioners to consider the lower-cost option of hiring the private ambulance service. Commissioners, however, said that some fire departments had refused to allow the privately paid EMS workers to be housed at their stations.

The new tax rate will go to 77 cents per $100 in property valuation. The increase follows a 4-cent tax hike last year.

The commissioners adopted the budget before a crowd of about 30 people. The commissioners allowed some of the people to talk, but Chairman L.S. Guy told the group the board had already made up its mind about adopting the budget.

"We did our dead level best in not increasing property taxes, and we have several departments that will be very short-handed," said Guy. "In principle, it's already adopted. Today is just a formality."

Commissioner Larry Howard moved to adopt the budget. Myrle Beringer provided the second. The vote was 4-2, with Arliss Albertson and Reginald Wells dissenting.

The budget includes a 4 percent increase in employee health insurance costs, a 1.5 percent increase in salaries for county employees, hiring a new computer specialist and creating a position at the West Park Business Technology Center.

County Manager Fred Eldridge said he had to transfer $2.3 million from reserves to balance the new budget.

Johnny Osworth, a member of the Warsaw town board, asked the commissioners to pass an interim budget and rethink the full budget.

"To raise taxes I think is wrong when you have a cheaper alternative," he said.

He was referring to Johnston Ambulance Services' offer to provide paramedic service for $402,000 a year. The county would provide the squad buildings.

"Our volunteers are to be commended," Osworth said. "They did a tremendous service to the county for a number of years. But we're talking about an advanced level of service. If you keep raising taxes, it will cause difficulty in attracting jobs to the county."

Resident Charles Edwards said his tax burden was already too heavy. He pleaded with the commissioners to investigate EMS further and pass an interim budget. He said $402,000 is one-fourth the $1.6 million cost of county-run EMS.

"Everybody appreciates EMS. It's needed," he said. "But I am concerned about the tax situation."

"If it don't work out, you can still go back to county-owned," he added.

The county's plan would create six EMS stations staffed by paid EMS workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Volunteers had told county officials a private company couldn't use their fire stations to house emergency workers. The fire departments own the buildings.

The private company's proposal was made based on volunteers answering calls. The county's volunteers say they won't answer calls for a private company.

Resident Joe Lanier asked commissioners, "Are they holding us hostage?"