07/29/13 — Firemen's group has not reviewed commission cost recovery proposal

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Firemen's group has not reviewed commission cost recovery proposal

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 29, 2013 1:46 PM

A proposed county ordinance that would allow fire departments and other emergency service agencies to charge fees to recover costs associated with extended-stay or equipment-intensive calls has yet to be reviewed by the Wayne County Firemen's Association.

And the president of that group, Delbert Edwards, said he has not yet heard anything from Wayne County commissioners about bringing it up. Once that happens, Edwards said he would appoint a committee to review the proposal.

Commissioners tabled discussion of the ordinance after questions were raised about the membership of a review committee it would create and that committee's authority and role in the billing process.

Commissioners have not indicated when, or if, the proposal would be brought back up.

Wayne County EMS and Safety Manager Blair Tyndall, who helped craft the proposal, said he had received no further direction from commissioners concerning the ordinance.

"As we speak today, I do not know the intention of the board," Tyndall said. "That's fine. They do not have to tell me their intentions. I don't know if they are going to do a work session or revisit it, or if they have tabled it forever and forever. The motion was to table and that is what happened."

Tyndall said he was not "really sure what happened," to cause the confusion over the billing process.

"The intent as it was written, as I wrote it as requested by Mr. (Commissioner Wayne) Aycock, was that the fire chief or incident commander would say, 'Hey, we used this on this call and we would like to send this bill to this company,'" Tyndall said. "They would submit all of the supporting documentation to the committee and the committee says, 'Yes, we agree it is a billable event, and Mr. Fire Chief you can send the bill and collect the money.'

"We wanted checks and balances. We wanted to maintain a countywide consistency and not have this fire department billing for a $500 loss and this one billing for a $5 loss. So you have to have some consistency in what is being billed, and the committee was the way to do that."

Edwards said he could not answer questions about the specifics of the proposal, such as what threshold for hours, manpower or other costs would be used before an agency could submit a bill.

"I know that the proposed ordinance identifies a committee and there would be a representative from the Firemen's Association on that committee," Edwards said. "I am not sure if the committee is to develop rules about how claims are submitted, establishing those thresholds or if they are just simply to review claims before they are submitted to be paid.

"I don't know that any of that has been discussed, period. Those are details that sound like to me the committee would work out once the ordinance is passed. I think it would be up to whoever the president of the association is at that time to appoint that committee member. I would think that those would be details that would have to be worked out by that committee."

Thresholds that would trigger the billing have not been discussed, Tyndall said.

However, there is a rate schedule, he said. It just hasn't been discussed publicly because it is the complicated reimbursement rating structure used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The schedule is updated annually, he said.

"It says you can charge 'x' amount of dollars for a fire truck with so many horsepower per hour,'" he said. "Or you can charge 'x' amount of dollars for a firefighter per hour. It is a national schedule."

Should the call involve more than one agency, the incident commander would still be in charge and would submit documentation supporting any billing to the review committee, Tyndall said. There has been no discussion as to how the other agencies providing mutual aid would being involved in billing, he added.

"I would think that everything would be turned in from those assisting departments and then billed as a joint effort and redistributed the same way that it was itemized for the bill," he said.

Edwards said he believes the ordinance could be good for fire departments.

"I think that they are on the right track, the details just need to be worked out about how it is going to be billed, and who is going to be billed," he said. "The concern I have about it is that you have a property owner, or a resident, out here in your fire district who is already paying a fire tax. I want to ensure that those people aren't billed twice for a service they are already paying for."

Commissioner Ed Cromartie voiced similar concerns during the commissioners' July 16 work session on the proposal.

"I don't think this (double billing) is the intent of the ordinance," Edwards said. "I think it is to recover cost on these major incidents that occur on the highway, or at some of our manufacturing facilities in the county that have a potential to have hazardous materials situations or situations where you would be on the scene for an extended period of time.

"But before I would be able to endorse that ordinance I would want to make sure that our average, everyday property owner out here is not going to be exposed to double jeopardy, so to speak."

It is important for the association to be involved in the process, Edwards said.

"I think that after the commissioners can get the guidelines, or what direction they want to go in, and then give it to us and ask for our opinion or guidance on hammering out the specific details," he said.

The ordinance was endorsed by several veteran fire chiefs at a June 18 public hearing. No one spoke against it.

During the July 16 workshop Tyndall said the intent was 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," he said.

None of the incidents would be billable under a state or federally declared disaster.