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Fire tax

December 07, 1999

Just as the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association's threat to end all charitable contributions back in 1993 eventually led to the passage of a tip-jar gambling law here in 1995, the Community Rescue Service's call for a $600,000 increase in the county funds its gets may prompt a change in the way those funds are handed out. No matter how county officials slice the pie, however, it's clear CRS should get a bigger piece.

Why? Because CRS answers about 6,000 calls per year, more than all the other seven ambulance companies combined. And because CRS's territory covers most of the poorer parts of the City of Hagerstown, it has fewer opportunities to recoup the cost of service by billing insurance companies.

Many times CRS personnel find that the person to whose emergency they're responding to either doesn't have health coverage, or refuses transport after being patched up at the scene by a medic.

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In addition, sometimes CRS ambulances respond with police to a domestic dispute or other altercation, on the off-chance that someone may be hurt during the incident. Oftentimes, police are able to defuse the situation, but that doesn't mean CRS doesn't incur a cost by responding.

Objections to distributing funds based in large part on the number of calls handled don't make sense to us. Those who do the work incur costs and sustain wear and tear on their equipment and need to be compensated.

That said, however, it would be a mistake to pit one company against another for county funding, although it might distract the companies from the long-term solution that they need.

Perhaps, as Commissioner John Schnebly said, more analysis of the numbers is needed. But after a $90,000 consultant study and a revision, there comes a time when "further study" is a code word for putting off difficult decisions. This board of county commissioners needs to decide on a plan for funding fire/rescue in the next six months, or provide a good reason why they can't.

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