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Tax hike killed for paid medics

March 24, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Commissioners decided not to increase property taxes Monday night to hire paid medics to assist the volunteers, a move that the president of the county fire and rescue association said will cost lives.

"I don't want to pay any more taxes than anyone else around here, but I wonder how many lives have to be lost before something is done," said John Maher, president of the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association.

"The volunteers need help and they need it now," Maher said after the meeting. "People are going to die because we didn't raise taxes to put paid people on."

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Jefferson County Commissioner R. Gregory Lance said the increase would have cost most property owners an additional $10 a year.

But residents said they did not want to see taxes increased.

"I think only a fool would say the fire companies don't need help, but then again our taxes have gone sky high over the years," said Pat O'Brien, 51, of Charles Town. "We're struggling to pay them."

"I firmly believe as a community we must help these firemen," O'Brien said. "They've helped us many, many times. But there must be an alternative method than taxing the poor and the elderly."

"If I have to, I'll drive myself to the hospital," said John Cramer, 70, of Ranson, W.Va., who also spoke against the tax increase.

Ambulances have been delayed in responding to some calls because there are not enough volunteers to cover all of the emergencies, officials said.

On one recent call, it took 48 minutes for a man experiencing heart trouble to get an ambulance to his aid, said Mike Alvarez, a member of the Jefferson County Ambulance Authority.

If the tax increase had been approved, paid medics would have been put on to help cover the times when the volunteer medics are at their regular jobs, officials said.

Several residents and County Commissioners said they opposed the tax increase because not all of the details of how a paid system would operate with the volunteers have been worked out.

"I don't want to fund something when I don't know what I'm funding," said County Commissioner Dean Hockensmith.

Lance said it was obvious the public was not willing to support the plan for paid medics.

The ambulance authority should work with the volunteers in coming up with a plan for how the paid system would operate, Lance said.

Commissioners also said they were concerned that if there was a property tax increase, then donations from the community to the volunteer companies would stop.

"No matter what we do it's fraught with risks," Lance said. "The folks are giving their all, but there's too few of them who are trying to help too many of us."

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