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Ambulance fee waiver plan is abandoned

April 02, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A plan to exonerate Berkeley County emergency volunteers from paying an annual $35 ambulance fee was abandoned Thursday, after the county's attorney said state law prevents it.

Attorney Andy Blake said West Virginia code does not allow county commissioners to create special classes of people when it comes to collecting, or not collecting, ambulance fees.

Currently, each property owner in the county pays a $35 annual fee. The money is used to pay for Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority vehicles, equipment and employee salaries.

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The matter was discussed Thursday during the Berkeley County Commission meeting. Ambulance Authority President Charles Hall said the proposal, at most, would result in less than $2,000 in fees being lost.

Emergency medical volunteers at the county's five volunteer fire departments would be exonerated only if they responded to at least 5 percent of their station's calls, according to a written copy of the proposal.

Blake said state code provides an "all or none" situation - either everybody or nobody must pay the fee. Carving out a special class of people would contradict the state's constitution, he added.

With the exemption likely impossible to provide, County Commissioner Howard Strauss asked what kind of perks are provided to volunteers.

A banquet is held and volunteers are given T-shirts, hats, mugs and such items. Training is paid for and volunteers can attend, at the Ambulance Authority's expense, an annual EMS conference, Hall said.

No financial perks are provided.

Hall proposed that a private collection be started to pay the volunteers' fees. He said he would start the fund with a $100 donation and the money could be kept in a jar in a safe, then given to qualified volunteers to pay their fees.

Residents could donate if they wanted to, he said.

While the county has no control over a private fund-raiser, Blake said even a small sum would be considered income - affecting the emergency responders' status as volunteers - and would have to be taxed.

Only the Legislature could pass a bill allowing volunteers to be exempt from paying the fee, Blake said.

County Commission President Steve Teufel said he will speak to state lawmakers in the area, to see if any are interested in sponsoring such a bill.

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