05/22/13 — Fees would allow fire departments to recoup some costs

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Fees would allow fire departments to recoup some costs

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 22, 2013 1:46 PM

The public next month will have the opportunity to speak out on a proposed county ordinance that would allow Wayne County fire departments to charge fees for their services at wrecks and other calls that require an extended response time and/or extra materials.

The proposal does not include house fires or minor accidents.

Rather, the fees would be assessed to recover the costs of replacing or repairing equipment or supplies used or damaged at a scene, as well as to cover any waiting time.

Wayne County commissioners agreed Tuesday morning to hold a public hearing on the proposal on June 18 at 9:30 a.m. in their meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.

Commissioners will then follow up on the hearing with a still-to-be-scheduled work session to discuss the matter further before acting on the proposal.

According to the proposal, an Emergency Services Cost Recovery Ordinance Review Committee would review the documentation for any cost recovery request before the billing process is initiated.

The committee would include the fire commissioner, the board of commissioners' appointed representative who is currently Commissioner Wayne Aycock; the director of the Office of Emergency Services, currently Joe Gurley, and staff as required; a commissioners-appointed representative from the Wayne County Fireman's Association; and any other industry specialist that the committee might need.

The fire commissioner, the Office of Emergency Services director and the Wayne County Fireman's Association representative would be the voting members.

"I would like to clear up one thing," Aycock said during Tuesday's meeting. "There was an article in the paper yesterday, and I need to clear up one thing on it. The article said the commissioners asked for this. I have had several fire chiefs come to me in the last three or four months and question this (ordinance) because some of the surrounding counties have a similar resolution. Not exact, but similar.

"This has been my project. This will be presented to commissioners now. The commissioners, as the paper stated, had not asked for this. Only the fire commissioner, which I am in that position. This has been my project. I have worked on it with the assistance of OES. Now it will be presented to the commissioners for either their approval or denial."

Wayne County EMS/ Safety Director Blair Tyndall told the News-Argus for the article that he had authored the ordinance at the request of commissioners.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said the article had left him "at odds" because he had not heard anything about the proposal.

While it appears that commercial vehicles could be the largest "culprit" where spills are concerned, Cromartie said he was concerned it would be another user fee on the general public.

For the time being, though, Aycock said, the only question was whether or not to hold a public hearing on the proposal. A work session will be needed before it is acted on, he said.

"That would be the proper time to discuss the facts and fundamentals of this," he said.

Chairman Steve Keen asked board members if they wanted the work session before or after the public hearing.

Commissioner Bill Pate said he would like to hear from the public first and then hold the work session.

"I need to hear what they have to say before I make a decision myself," he said.

The board agreed and the motion was approved to schedule the hearing.

Under the proposal, the county would first bill the insurance company of the person at fault in a wreck. If the company does not pay, then the responsible person or company would be billed.

The ordinance is not aimed at minor wrecks, Tyndall said in an earlier interview.

"We are talking about extended scene times, trailers overturned, large releases of fluids, stuff that the fire departments have to stay on the scene for a very long time," he said. "It has nothing to do with house fires.

"That is the kind of stuff we are talking about -- very extended scene time. They use a ton of equipment, and they use a ton of manpower."

The cost would not be recoverable if the situation involves a state or federally declared state of emergency.