SNOW HILL – County officials reaffirmed their decision to fund West Ocean City ambulance service this week.
As the Worcester County Commissioners resumed budget discussions on Tuesday, several were quick to question the figures presented by staff regarding emergency medical service grants. Though the commissioners voted 4-3 last week to provide Ocean City with the funding needed to provide emergency medical service in West Ocean City, the figure staff presented Tuesday was not the $330,000 referenced last week.
“I fully admit I did not vote for this but at the same time when the commissioners vote an action it should be done,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.
Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins initiated budget discussions Tuesday by telling the commissioners based on the actions taken at the last session, the proposed budget had revenues of $204,325,631 and expenditures of $203,774,334, leaving a surplus of $551,297. He said that fire and ambulance expenses had increased in the proposed budget since $11,000 had been added to the grant for Stockton’s ambulance service and $184,000 had been added for Ocean City to allow for coverage of West Ocean City.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said Higgins had been instructed at last week’s meeting to contact Ocean City Budget Director Jenny Knapp to “get the actual number they were looking for” to provide West Ocean City ambulance service and to put that in the budget.
Higgins said he must have misunderstood. He said Ocean City officials suggested a figure of $330,000 based on 2019 costs but that he expected the cost of service to be less this year due to the health crisis.
“Based on my study and analysis I do not believe the current summer activity will be the same,” he said.
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom expressed concern with the funding being provided to Stockton. He said the company had asked for funding for a full-time employee and that the commissioners last week had agreed to provide that funding.
Higgins said that in subsequent conversations with the company its leaders had indicated that they were comfortable with receiving the same amount other companies received.
Bertino expressed concern about the changing figures.
“We’re flipping back and forth,” he said. “It seems like we’re looking at this piecemeal, all these different fire companies … We don’t have a fleshed out, holistic plan for it. And we have numbers that may or may not be justified.”
Mitrecic agreed the commissioners would have to take a broad look at the situation in the future.
“I think that in the long run, to look at this holistically we’re going to have to look at emergency services districts and some way to pay for this throughout the county,” he said. “But for right now I think that, I can’t even say that I applaud Mr. Higgins’ actions because it’s counter to what was voted on at this last meeting. Once again it’s staff’s interpretation of what we want to do.”
He said that wasn’t productive.
“We shouldn’t even be talking about this right now,” he said.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Shannahan said there was a formula for grant payment related to full-time equivalents to fire companies. He said what was suggested for Stockton would given the company an unfair advantage.
“I did not vote for the motions that we’re talking about however I will agree that when a majority of commissioners vote and an action is directed it should be taken,” Bertino said. “I don’t understand why we’re interpreting things or whatnot.”
Commissioner Ted Elder advocated for the funding formula.
“Right here right now we’re trying to undermine all that,” he said. “Everything that’s been fair all this time. You’re going to have controversies, you’re going to have hard feelings, you’re going to have people that don’t have enough funding, other ones that have too much funding. What Harold did down there at Ocean City was he brought back a figure … because there’s nowhere near the calls in this year’s budget compared to 2019. Other than that they’ll be turning a profit when it comes to ambulance service. Ocean City is getting ready to turn a profit on ambulance service to West Ocean City.”
Mitrecic stressed Higgins’ figure related to personnel and didn’t take into account the cost of the equipment it took to provide ambulance service.
Nordstrom that as far as Stockton, adding a person to that company had been prioritized at a joint meeting of the county’s fire chiefs.
“It wasn’t about being fair or unfair. It was about the safety of the citizens in the southern end of the county because having one full-time employee in Stockton alleviated pressure on four different companies, in fact all four of the companies, that are in the southern end of the county,” Nordstrom said.
Higgins said he would make sure the proposed budget was adjusted to include $330,000 for Ocean City to provide ambulance service to West Ocean City and to include $36,000 for Stockton to fund a full-time employee.