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Commissioners OK deal to provide subsidies to EMS companies

Kercheval opposed agreement, saying it needed more stringent financial reporting procedures

June 08, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

Editor's note: This story was edited June 10, 2010, to correct a reporter's error in an earlier version of the story that misquoted County Administrator Gregory B. Murray. Murray said the county has not fully enforced its financial reporting and auditing policy for fire and rescue companies. The county has conducted audits of public funds, but has not forced companies to provide private financial information, he said.

The Herald-Mail apologizes for the mistake.




WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday finalized an agreement to provide staffing subsidies to volunteer EMS companies, starting July 1, to guarantee 24-seven staffing.

The subsidies, which will start at a total of about $1.7 million a year, were approved as part of an "EMS Plan for the Future" in December, but Tuesday's agreement finalized implementation details.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the agreement, with Commissioner James F. Kercheval opposed. Kercheval said the agreement didn't go far enough to specify specific financial reporting procedures for EMS companies.

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As a condition of the subsidies, EMS companies must provide the county with "any financial or operational information" requested, or the subsidy will be withheld until the reports are provided, with late reports penalized by a reduction in the subsidy.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said after the meeting the agreement marked the first time all eight companies had committed to full financial disclosure to the county.

The county has had a financial disclosure policy since 2005 that requires volunteer fire and rescue companies to submit an annual financial report to the county and to agree to full financial auditing, but until now, the policy has not been fully enforced, Murray said.

"Although the county had adopted that, there was no consolidated agreement between the county and the companies that they would abide by that," he said.

The agreement also requires EMS companies receiving the subsidies to maintain a minimum staffing level and a response rate of no more than 5 percent of responses deemed late, light crew, or failed in any 30-day period.

If a company is unable to meet those requirements, after 60 days, the county's Director of Emergency Services may take emergency steps to ensure service, the agreement says.

Kercheval said the county should have taken the opportunity to make its financial reporting requirements stronger and more specific, calling for standardized accounting processes and specifying which financial reports must be provided.

"To me, it's disappointing that we're going to add another $1.7 million to multimillion dollars from gaming and everything else, and not take more steps in regards to what we require as part of that," Kercheval said. "I thought this was an opportunity to make some strides, and I think we fell well short."

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire also said the document was written "more loosely" than he would like, but said he was supporting it as a first step "to get us moving in some direction."

He said he anticipated the document would be brought back before the commissioners in the future because of issues arising from holes in the policies.

Glenn Fishack, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, applauded the commissioners for approving and implementing the staffing support.

"It's probably not a perfect document, but it's a working document that we can only improve on, and the best thing is we are giving the citizens of Washington County a better system than they ever had," Fishack said.

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