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Ambulance Authority board president defends real estate moves

In remarks to Berkeley County Council, Charles R. Hall III refuted charges made earlier this month

March 19, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The president of the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority board last week defended the agency's real estate moves in recent years, countering recent claims of mismanagement that "fall just short of malfeasance."

In prepared remarks made to Berkeley County Council Thursday, Charles R. Hall III refuted charges made earlier this month by Rick Trenary, who was critical of how the ambulance authority had been spending money on facilities.

The council will hold a public hearing on April 7 to consider response from the community on the ambulance authority's request to increase its household fee by $15 a year.

The proposed increase — from $50 to $65 — already has been criticized by residents in a hearing held by the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority.

The ambulance authority has requested the increase to keep up with demands for service, retain professional staff and replace ambulances. The agency handled about 5,000 transports last year.

Trenary had outlined a real estate relationship that he had with the ambulance authority dating to July 2005. Trenary said he purchased the ambulance authority's Station 98 building along Arden Nollville Road for $550,000 and leased it back to the agency for more than four years.

At the time of the sale, Trenary said the authority owed $10,097 on the building, but it ultimately paid $217,150.16 in rent and taxes through the lease agreement.

Hall countered on Thursday that the ambulance authority's real estate adviser indicated that the rental terms were not out of line with other commercial agreements and noted that county leaders advised the agency to be prepared to build on a site in Tabler Station Business Park.

The proposed emergency services center project has since been put on hold, but Hall said the county's guidance on the facility issue remained in place for several years.

"Mr. Trenary talks about the (ambulance authority) mismanaging taxpayers funds but does not admit to his attempt to further avail himself of even more taxpayers' funds at a time when it evidently appeared to him that (we) had no other option than to accept his terms to the lease," Hall said of their ill-fated real-estate agreement.

Hall also countered Trenary's claims that the authority had not been adequately planning for the future, noting the agency had a strategic plan for EMS facilities, which had to be changed when the Business Park project did not move forward.

Hall also responded to Trenary's criticism of a subsequent move to purchase property in the Wheatland area.

"It is true that our plans to build on (another) property have been postponed while we deal with the south county issues, but that acquisition has not resulted in any loss of revenues on our capital funds," Hall said of the Wheatland project.

The cost of building there was deemed to be higher than expected, Hall said.

The ambulance authority could not get anybody to estimate costs without a specific parcel upon which to base their estimates, Hall said. The agency did as much due diligence as they could on the Wheatland property without being in a position to buy an option, he said.

A sign on the Wheatland property has generated $9,500 through the fall of last year for the ambulance authority, Hall said.

In advocating for a fee increase, Hall has said that the authority had not purchased an ambulance since 2008 and noted demands for service are expected to continue to grow.

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