05/30/07 — Public outcry changes Duplin ambulance plans

View Archive

Public outcry changes Duplin ambulance plans

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 30, 2007 1:45 PM

Duplin County commissioners reconsidered a decision to reduce the number of ambulances in the county and agreed Tuesday to come up with $430,000 in additional funds for 2007-08 to keep the current level of emergency services.

Commissioners had indicated a desire to replace several ambulance stations -- in Chinquapin, Kenansville and Pleasant Grove -- with quick response vehicles that would carry the same medical equipment as an ambulance but not provide transportation.

Some members of the county's emergency response system and a number of private citizens opposed the reduction. At a budget work session last week, the commissioners voted 5-1 to reinstate the three ambulances and to increase allocations to the county's volunteer fire departments.

Commissioners had originally sought the cuts to help balance the county budget. They had instructed County Manager Mike Aldridge to develop a budget that would reduce the county tax rate from 80.5 cents to 79 cents per $100 worth of property, while at the same time limiting withdrawal from reserve accounts to $1.85 million.

Those goals might not be attainable now, commissioners admitted.

Last week, Duplin Emer-gency Medical Services director Brian Pearce told commissioners it would cost more than $370,000 to keep the county's eight existing ambulances functioning year-round.

Despite the increasing costs, Commissioner L.S. Guy said he voted for the increased funding because he believes the people of Duplin County do not want their emergency medical services cut back.

"I believe the people of Duplin County deserve to have as good of emergency service as we can provide," Guy said.

Commissioner Harold Raynor said providing the money was the right decision, but noted that the move means the goal of keeping fund balance withdrawal below $1.85 million cannot be met.

Commissioner Reginald Wells said the goal was not realistic, given Duplin's needs and obligations.

"I think we made a collective decision to move the county forward," Wells said.

The motion came in two parts. Commissioner first voted on a $300,000 allocation to maintain the eight ambulances. Turner cast the lone opposing vote. The second motion was for an additional $72,000. Commissioner Chairman David Fussell cast the dissenting vote on the second motion.

"I thought things were going to be kosher, but once the EMS decision was made, they kept adding more money," Fussell said. "I don't know if the budget will be approved the way it is."

Fussell said the board would not spend more from the fund balance after the $300,000 allocation, but organizations continued to ask for more and the commissioners approved the requests.

One such example, Fussell said, is the decision by the board to give each of the county's 20 fire departments a 14 percent increase in funding.

Each fire department currently receives $20,777.01 annually. The 14 percent increase will now give each fire department $23,685.80, or more than $58,000 collectively for the departments.