07/18/13 — Fire cost recoup plan is tabled

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Fire cost recoup plan is tabled

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 18, 2013 1:46 PM

A proposed county ordinance that would allow emergency services agencies to charge fees to recover costs associated with extended-stay or equipment-intensive calls has been tabled until concerns over the makeup of a review committee and confusion over who could authorize billing can be sorted out.

The Tuesday decision by Wayne County commissioners to set the proposal aside appeared to upset Commissioner Wayne Aycock who originated the idea for the ordinance.

"This was presented to this board several weeks ago," Aycock said. "We had the public hearing on it and now all of a sudden everybody wants to step up to the plate and change it. I do not understand where you all are coming from.

"There has been a lot of time and effort put into this. It is very disrespectful to me for all of this to come up today. Everyone was aware of it."

Several veteran fire chiefs spoke in favor of the ordinance at a June 18 public hearing. No one spoke against it.

Aycock made a motion to accept the ordinance, but before the vote could be taken, Chairman Steve Keen asked the makeup of the committee charged with reviewing and approving the billing.

Keen questioned whether the membership should be expanded, possibly including municipalities since residents there pay taxes, too.

He also questioned the definition of "fire commissioner." The commission chairman appoints a board member as fire commissioner. Keen said he had appointed Aycock to that role because of his many years of fire service.

However, the term as used in the proposal is not well-defined, he said. Keen questioned as well having the Office of Emergency Services director on the committee since that person is a county employee. Finally, the representative of the Wayne County Firemen's Association is not clearly defined and could be a veteran fire chief or a 19-year-old with little experience, Keen said.

Keen offered an amendment to Aycock's motion to remove the section dealing with the committee from the ordinance for further study.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery asked if that would remove the committee that would authorize the billing.

The incident commander is the one who authorizes the billing, County Attorney Borden Parker said. Daughtery said he understood that the committee authorized the billing.

"The commander of the event is the one who authorizes the billing and actually does the billing," Parker said.

So it is not submitted to a committee, Daughtery said.

"Not as (the ordinance) is written," Parker said.

Daughtery said that in view of "conflicting matters" that he was making a motion to table the ordinance for further discussion.

The motion was approved 5-2, with Aycock and Commissioner Ray Mayo voting no.

Wayne County EMS and Safety Manager Blair Tyndall said the ordinance being discussed was the same copy used during the public hearing.

"The intent of the cost recovery ordinance is not to charge for residential fires," he said. "It is not to charge for routine emergencies. It is to charge and recover costs for fire departments and other emergency services organizations that may be involved in an extended-scene time event, that may be involved in incidents requiring numerous days on scene, that require massive amounts of equipment and that may damage or render some of their equipment unusable."

Those conditions could create undue financial hardships on the departments or agencies, he said.

Tyndall noted that none of the incidents would be billable under a state or federally declared disaster.

"If approved as you have it in front of you now, a committee would be used to evaluate the charges before the billing was actually done," he said. "The billing would at that point and from here on out would be done by the individual fire department. The county approving this ordinance gives them that leeway that is currently not there."

The ordinance just authorizes the agencies to bill, Tyndall said. The decision to send a bill to an individual or company would be determined by the fire chief or the incident commander, not the county.

The ordinance reads that billing documents would be brought before the committee "for approval before the billing process is initiated."

There have been several extended-time incidents in the county, Aycock said.

"Without this resolution the individual fire department can bill for it now, but without this resolution insurance companies do not have to pay," he said. "This resolution will make it a whole lot easier to recoup some of this expense and it is actually going to take the burden off of the individual taxpayers in the district."