Baltimore, Carroll counties debate latter's ambulance fees

Volunteer services charge when crossing border

February 11, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore and Carroll County officials -- who have feuded for years over development, sewage and the best place for a state police crime lab -- agreed yesterday to try to resolve their latest dispute: the fairness of Carroll County's ambulance fees.

Officials from both counties put aside differences at an Annapolis meeting, but argued for an hour over whether Carroll's cash-strapped volunteer ambulance companies should be allowed to charge Baltimore County residents when their ambulances cross the border.

Carroll officials said the billing that began Jan. 1 is needed for ambulance crews to make ends meet.

"These little ambulance companies are all volunteer, and they spend half their time trying to raise money," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, the Carroll County Republican who set up yesterday's meeting at the Maryland Association of Counties offices.

But Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said it isn't fair for his constituents to pay Baltimore County taxes for ambulance services and then pay bills if a Carroll County ambulance takes them to a hospital.

"We see this basically as our citizens being taxed and our representatives in Baltimore County having no say in that taxation," Ruppersberger told Carroll County's commissioners, state legislators and volunteer ambulance company officials.

Ruppersberger said the fees violate the terms of a 1989 Mutual Aid Agreement signed by officials in all six jurisdictions in the Baltimore area, which requires a free exchange of fire and ambulance services. The ambulance companies also could lose protections from lawsuits provided by state Good Samaritan laws if they begin charging the fees, he said.

Carroll officials say they routinely respond to ambulance calls across the border because the far-flung communities in northern Baltimore County need their help. They also say they would only bill insurance companies, not individuals without insurance.

The two counties have been feuding since 1969, when a sewer plant built to serve Carroll County residents began dumping effluent into Baltimore County.

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced plans in July to keep the state police crime lab in Baltimore County, Carroll County legislators, who had hoped to see the lab built in their county, criticized the decision as political.

Ruppersberger referred to past conflicts once yesterday, when he said that he felt the crime lab was an asset that belonged in Pikesville.

"My only issue with Carroll County was that we keep the crime lab that we had all along in Baltimore County," he said.

Officials from both counties gave conflicting figures yesterday about the number of times fire and ambulance crews crossed each other's borders. But both sides agreed that Carroll would collect $38,000 to $70,000 from Baltimore County residents each year, charging about $300 per call.

Haines asked Ruppersberger if he could award a grant to Carroll County or to the ambulance companies in compensation.

But Ruppersberger said that would violate the Mutual Aid Agreement, prompt similar requests from other jurisdictions and would never win the consent of the Baltimore County Council.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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