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Berkeley Co. homeowners might see $15 hike in "household service" fee

February 10, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Homeowners in Berkeley County could potentially see a $15 increase in the special fee that funds the county's emergency ambulance authority.

In prepared remarks to the Berkeley County Council on Thursday, Charles R. Hall, president of the Ambulance Authority board, said the fee increase was needed to counter an "approaching crisis" involving aging ambulances and the need for additional staff.

The increase is proposed to go into effect July 1 and is projected to increase revenue by about $450,000 by raising the fee to $65, according to Hall.

Before being put into effect, the "household service" fee increase must first be approved by the Berkeley County Council, which would present the proposal as an ordinance for public comment.

The crisis is due in part to ongoing trouble with collecting the fee, according to Hall.

About 8,000 bills out of 36,000 sent to home owners last year had not been paid as of last month, Hall said.

Hall indicated a recent donation of two ambulances by Powerball jackpot winner and former county sheriff and magistrate W. Randy Smith has eased demands on the aging fleet for the short term.

The agency's oldest unit has been in service for 17 years and the highest mileage unit had about 225,000 miles as of Jan. 1, Hall said.

Neighboring EMS organizations operate their fleets on average of 150,000 miles or five years, according to Hall.

As for staffing concerns, Hall said a recent survey showed more than 200 instances when all of the agency's EMS crews were out on calls simultaneously and there was no reserve staff available for any other emergency calls.

"Our situation is grave and getting worse as time passes," Hall said in remarks prepared for the agency's budget presentation.

"We cannot cut expenses, as more than 75 percent (of the budget) goes to personnel wages, benefits and payroll taxes while the remainder goes almost totally for operational and managerial support."

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