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Rescue service requests county funding

November 02, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Representatives from Community Rescue Service Tuesday asked for $600,000 to make up for the money they say the company loses when patients do not pay their bills.

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The officers made their pitch to the steering committee of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, the umbrella organization for the county's fire and rescue companies.

Jay Grimes, the association's president, told the members to supply budgets for the last two years and audits for the last five years. He said the steering committee would meet again to discuss the matter, and possibly consider lobbying the County Commissioners for the extra money, when the documentation is supplied.

"If we holler wolf, we need to know what we're talking about," Grimes said.

The county provides money to the Fire & Rescue Association, which distributes it to the individual companies.

CRS, which responds to more emergencies and has a larger budget than all other rescue companies in the county combined, has seen its cash reserves dwindle over the last three years, officers said.

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Last year, CRS had a shortfall of about $98,400, said J. Michael Nye, vice president of the CRS board of directors. Unlike last year, Nye said the company has no cash reserves to deal with any deficit this fiscal year.

"Time is of the essence," said Christopher N. Amos, the company's chief operating officer.

In addition, the company anticipates spending more than $600,000 over the next two years to replace ambulances and outdated equipment.

Nye told association members that payroll costs have been escalating the last few years at the same time that revenues have been declining.

Revenues have declined in part because areas in the company's territory have been transferred to other rescue squads, Nye said.

Only 28 percent of those solicited contributed to a recent request for donations, Amos said.

Because the company serves many low-income areas of Hagerstown where people do not always have insurance, Amos said the company collects only about 45 percent of its bills. All other rescue companies get more than 80 percent, he said.

"The fundamental problem is we have a very high call load. And most of those calls, we have little ability to recover those costs," Nye said.

In asking for more money from the county, CRS officials acknowledged past mistakes the company has made and outlined efforts to correct them.

"We should have recognized that a little better, a littler earlier," Amos said.

Amos said the company should have launched a fund-raising campaign when it built its new headquarters on Eastern Boulevard for $1.4 million.

The company also has not held regular fund raisers. Amos said the company formed a committee about a month ago to explore year-round money-raising activities.

"We've never had to do that kind of fund-raising before. Now, we're teaching ourselves how," he said.

Amos said the company has taken steps to cut costs, including eliminating positions.

He said the company plans to seek help from a variety of sources and said CRS plans to set up a meeting with Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council.

CRS also intends to ask the Washington County Gaming Commission for money beyond the 40 percent that by law must go to fire and rescue companies. The money would be used for indigent services.

"It would be every bit as legitimate as a volleyball team asking for money," Nye said.

Some members of the steering committee questioned why the company did not take steps to correct problems before.

Steering committee member Charles Shindle noted the company's spotty participation in the fire and rescue association.

"Your attendance at the county meetings is not good," he said.

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