Dispute over charging for ambulance service flares again in Reese

Firemen's group warns station it risks funding

April 07, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The squabble over billing for ambulance services flared again Monday, when the Carroll County Firemen's Association gave the Reese station 30 days to rescind its decision not to charge for emergency medical service or risk losing county funds, officials said yesterday.

In February, the Reese membership voted contrary to the county commissioners' recommendation that fire companies bill residents' insurance companies for ambulance service. Eleven of the county's 14 fire companies have begun the billing.

"I have to take [the warning] back to the membership," Jerry Dayton, president of the Reese & Community Volunteer Fire Company, said yesterday. "I'll have to set up a meeting with the county commissioners to see what they have to say and meet with the [Reese] board of directors and lawyer, and decide what to do."

It was unclear how much money is at stake for Reese.

In the last fiscal year, the county provided $3.8 million to the county fire association, which distributes the money to fire companies. That figure amounts to 90 percent of the funding for each station's operating budget. The county provided another $550,000 for hiring paid emergency medical services workers to cover hard-to-fill weekday hours.

Thirteen fire companies provide ambulance service. All stations but Harney, which has no ambulance, and New Windsor hire paid emergency medical services workers.

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday county officials would not interfere in the issue.

"I don't see we would have a choice; we wouldn't want to interfere," he said, noting the commissioners never intended that Reese be penalized for its anti-billing stand.

"County funding is turned over to the firemen's association to be used as it sees fit," Dell said. "We give them so many dollars and, based on the needs and operating budgets of each company, the association decides how it is distributed. They do a good job, and we want to keep our hands off that process."

Association president Bob Alexander, a Reese company member, said he has tried to remain neutral at Reese membership meetings.

"This is a matter of following the association's bylaws, which state that majority rules," said Alexander. "It's embarrassing for me as president of the association and a member at Reese, when members in my company do not want to follow the bylaws."

Alexander said he would not seek disciplinary action against Reese because his term as association president expires in mid-May.

Bob Cumberland, first vice president, is next in line to be elected president at the association's annual convention next month.

Cumberland could not be reached for comment.

Dayton said he was upset Monday when association committees recommended Reese's funding be withheld if the company does not begin billing by July 1.

"I'm not happy about it, but I realize they have to take a stand," he said. "We know eventually, down the road, we're going to have to bill, but with our current fund raising we don't need to now. We feel it should be our decision when it does come time to bill."

Alexander said Dayton's reaction was stronger Monday night when he implied that Reese had other options, including dropping its ambulance service.

"I did say that we would have three options," Dayton said last night. "We could seek legal counsel, get rid of our ambulance or accept the association's position and start billing for medical service."

Dell said he did not believe Reese would seriously consider abandoning its ambulance service.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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