Fees truce their goal

Carroll senator, Balto. Co. executive expected to meet

`Hope to solve this problem'

Ruppersberger says he may seek legislation in ambulance dispute

February 09, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

State Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of the Carroll delegation, and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger are expected to meet tomorrow to try to negotiate a truce between the two counties.

The latest battle between the neighbors began when Carroll's volunteer fire companies began billing out-of-county patients for emergency medical services Jan. 1. Other jurisdictions, including Frederick County and York County, Pa., have not raised objections.

The Baltimore County executive has vowed to push for legislation blocking Carroll from charging Baltimore County residents, calling the fee for services a violation of a 1989 Mutual Aid Agreement. The spat is the latest in a long line of disputes between the counties.

Carroll and Baltimore counties have been feuding for 30 years, battling over such issues as a sewage-treatment plant, residential development and a state police crime laboratory. This week, leaders hope to put aside their differences and work out the latest conflict in the relationship.

"We're going to try to schedule a meeting with Dutch on Wednesday in Annapolis," Haines said. "It's obvious to me that Baltimore County lacks the capacity to provide the northern part of the county with ambulance service. Carroll County is providing that service."

Baltimore County has no ambulance crews based in its northwest corner, making Hampstead the closest emergency provider for Upperco, Arcadia, Boring and several oth er communities. As many as half of emergency medical service calls to Hampstead might be for Baltimore County, said Bob Alexander, president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association.

"Hopefully, we can reach a compromise and consensus on Baltimore County sharing some of the cost of that service," said Haines. "I hope to solve this problem with diplomacy instead of legislation."

Haines' approach has won support from the Carroll County commissioners, who discussed the ambulance fee issue with members of the state delegation, including Haines, for about an hour yesterday.

"I think we should keep an open mind until we have all of the information we need and can see the ramifications of any decision we make," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who serves with Ruppersberger on the board of the Maryland Association of Counties.

"I look forward to meeting with the Carroll delegation," Ruppersberger said. "I look forward to resolving this issue, but if we can't resolve it, we must move forward with the legislation."

The deadline to file bills for the legislative session is Friday.

"I hope it doesn't come to that," Ruppersberger said of his proposed legislative remedy. "It seems to me there are solutions that can be made."

Carroll crews responded to 1,882 calls last year, 245 of them in Baltimore County, according to figures released yesterday by the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association. Baltimore County ambulance companies responded to calls in Carroll County 53 times, the figures show.

In a letter last week to the Carroll commissioners, Ruppersberger said he was "disturbed" that the Hampstead company was billing Baltimore County residents for medical services. Baltimore County does not bill for such service.

Ruppersberger said billing for emergency services is a violation of the 1989 Mutual Aid Agreement between several metropolitan jurisdictions and the Carroll fire association and could cost Carroll's emergency medical personnel their immunity under the state's Good Samaritan Act.

Laurell Taylor, attorney for Carroll County, disagreed with Ruppersberger's interpretation of the agreement between Carroll's volunteer fire companies and Baltimore, Harford, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and Annapolis and Baltimore.

Taylor said the agreement does not prohibit billing residents or their insurance companies. Eleven of Carroll's 14 fire companies bill for emergency medical services. Harney doesn't have ambulance service, and Reese and New Windsor have chosen not to bill.

"My concern is the total picture," said Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Our citizens pay taxes, pay their insurance premiums and make contributions to fire department fund-raisers. In that way, they pay three different ways for emergency medical services. There's a void in northern Baltimore County, a void that Carroll fills. The firemen feel they are legally bound to charge for those services, and I support them 100 percent."

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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