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Faircloth proposes beer tax as way to help EMS

February 14, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG - Delegate Larry V. Faircloth, R-Berkeley, is considering three ideas to help emergency medical services, including a statewide beer tax.

He said the tax would be a way to get alcohol consumers to help pay for rescue crews that often respond to alcohol-related crashes.

Specifics of the proposal are still being worked out. Between 1 and 3 cents would probably be added to each can and bottle of beer sold in the state. Wine may be included, too, Faircloth said Monday.

Each county would receive the tax revenue it generates.

Faircloth said he is not sure if his idea will catch on among other lawmakers, some of whom have promised to oppose any new taxes.

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"I'm not sure there's support for such a measure," he said.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, does not like the tax. "There's other revenue sources that we ought to consider," he said.

Faircloth said his two other EMS-related proposals may have broader support.

One bill would give volunteer firefighters and EMS workers a 50-percent discount on the personal property tax on vehicles they use when they serve.

Another bill would consolidate fire fees, ambulance fees and personal property taxes onto one bill, to cut down on billing costs. Individual counties would have the option of forcing residents to pay all three expenses before they could renew their motor vehicle registration, Faircloth said.

Gary Collis, the program manager for the Berkeley County Ambulance Authority, said the county collects about 82 percent of the ambulance fees it is owed. Collecting the rest is expensive and time consuming, he said.

Faircloth said the personal property reduction and consolidation bills have been drafted and will probably be introduced in the House this week.

Collis called the proposed tax on alcohol a "fantastic" idea that would help ambulance crews "a lot."

Berkeley County residents pay an annual ambulance tax of $25, covering basic life support transports for anyone in the household. If the call requires advanced life support, a higher level of care, the charge is $250, Collis said.

The ambulance authority's 1999-2000 budget is just under $1 million, about half of which came from the ambulance fee, he said. The rest was generated through Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies and bills to non-county residents who received ambulance service. Collis said non-residents are charged $150 to $175 for a basic life support transport.

Faircloth said Eastern Panhandle EMS officials have explained to him that ambulances and liability insurance are expensive, which is why he wants to help.

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