SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials agreed to work with the Town of Ocean City regarding emergency medical service in West Ocean City.
During budget deliberations on Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 to negotiate with Ocean City regarding the cost of providing emergency medical service to the West Ocean City area and to include the necessary funding in the coming year’s budget.
“They provide a service and would like to be paid,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Mitrecic told the commissioners they needed to make a decision regarding how to provide EMS service in West Ocean City. Though Ocean City has provided the service to the West Ocean City area in the past, resort officials told the commissioners in February that if that was to continue, the county would have to cover the cost.
Though county staff took the roughly $400,000 cost of the service out of the proposed budget as they made adjustments due to COVID-19 impacts, Mitrecic said it was a decision for the commissioners to make.
“I think this is something that needs to be decided,” Mitrecic said. “We either need to give Ocean City the money they’re asking for or we have to come up with a way to provide services for the residents of West Ocean City.”
Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said he was in the process of determining the cost of having a private company provide EMS service in West Ocean City. Commissioner Jim Bunting said he thought the county should move forward with that.
“I just don’t like being threatened,” he said.
Mitrecic said Ocean City hadn’t threatened the county but simply couldn’t afford to continue to provide the service and saddle resort taxpayers with the expense.
“They can no longer run West Ocean City with the staff that they have,” Mitrecic said. “In order to continue to run West Ocean City, they need to put on more staff. That’s what this extra money is for. They also have to buy another ambulance.”
He added that the resort had been one call away from not being able to respond to emergencies within the resort because of the demands of West Ocean City.
“We’ve actually had Bethany come into town and make runs when things were close,” he said.
Mitrecic said he didn’t think the county would be able to find a private company to provide ambulance service to West Ocean City for less than $400,000. He stressed that wasn’t his primary concern, however.
“All I’m concerned about is residents of West Ocean City,” he said. “I don’t want to be the president that signs the letter to the residents of West Ocean City that says, ‘hey you don’t have ambulance service.’”
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom asked if the county could use some of the expected $4.5 million it would be getting through the CARES Act. Staff said there were stipulations on that funding that would ensure it was used for COVID-19 related expenses.
Nordstrom made a motion to provide Ocean City with the funding required to provide EMS service to West Ocean City.
“I don’t want to see West Ocean City go without service,” he said.
The commissioners voted 4-3, with Bunting, Commissioner Chip Bertino and Commissioner Ted Elder opposed, to approve the motion.