Bicycle Event Prompts EMS Concerns

SNOW HILL– Concerns about the cost of the Sea Gull Century have prompted county officials to begin exploring a special event permit process.

The Worcester County Commissioners this week agreed to have staff begin developing a special event permitting process. The decision came after the Department of Emergency Services reported that the Seagull Century had agreed to provide just $3,000 of the estimated $20,000 cost of fire and EMS services during the bicycling event.

“I don’t want to see the citizens of the county suffer because of this event,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said.

The Sea Gull Century Tour, a bicycling event that includes a 100-mile course and a 63-mile course, is held each October. While the event is based in Wicomico County, about 60% of the course is in Worcester County, according to county officials. Director of Emergency Services Billy Birch told the commissioners Tuesday that after reviewing numbers from years past, his department determined that the event was having a significant impact on local emergency services. Last year, call volume doubled the day of the event.

Birch said he’d been in contact with the SU Foundation and the organization had agreed to provide partial funding for the cost of fire and EMS response. While negotiations are ongoing, at this point the foundation has reportedly offered to pay slightly more than $3,000. The quote provided by local fire companies, however, assesses the cost of the service provided during the event at about $20,000. Fire company representatives present confirmed that they have to upstaff in order to be able to provide EMS service to the nearly 5,000 bicyclists participating in the event as well as area residents.

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Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said the event was a unique one and suggested it was the foundation’s duty to set up an agreement or memorandum of understanding with the county. He said it was important Worcester County residents have access to EMS services.

“Minutes count,” he said. “When you don’t have an ambulance in the area you have an emergency, that could result in in serious harm or death. We want to prevent that. It’s the county taxpayers that are paying for these EMS services. We want to keep them in the towns and Worcester County not out at some event.”

He said the county would have to keep trying to work with the foundation to address Worcester’s cost concerns. Commissioner Chip Bertino said county representatives had tried to work with the foundation.

“They told us to pound sand,” he said.

Birch said the cost projections wouldn’t generate revenue for the fire companies but would simply cover the cost of upstaffing.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, referencing an earlier joke he’d made about milling the road during the race, said the county should write another letter to the foundation.

“I was joking about milling the road but that can happen,” he said. “They won’t be bringing any bikes if we mill the road.”

Commissioner Ted Elder said it was critical that the county have enough resources for its citizens. Bunting agreed and asked if the county could create a relevant fee. Staff said that some jurisdictions had a special event permit.

“I’m not going to say how I actually feel about this group turning you down in offering to help with the cost of it,” he said, adding that the cost of EMS should be covered, whether it was covered by the foundation or the county. “I would suggest that in the very near future so next time this happens they either pay or they won’t be in Worcester County.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to have staff begin setting up a special event permitting process. Mitrecic pointed out that local municipalities like Ocean City had similar programs set up.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

When contacted after Tuesday’s meeting, Salisbury University Public Relations Director Jason Rhodes said this year’s request for financial support came too late in the race planning process.

“Salisbury University and the Salisbury University Foundation, Inc., are extremely appreciative of the volunteer fire departments and emergency medical service providers that have helped make the Sea Gull Century such a successful event over the past 34 years,” a statement from Rhodes reads. “Because the request to increase funding for these services in Worcester County was made just three weeks before this year’s October 8 event, after most of our 5,000 participants already had registered, it was not possible for Century organizers to adjust registration costs to cover the full amount requested. Sea Gull Century proceeds have benefited many of these volunteer organizations throughout the years and will continue to going forward. Each participating county also benefits annually from the estimated $4.5 million economic impact of this one-day event. Worcester County fire and EMS departments have made clear to the Sea Gull Century that their request was just that — a request and not an invoice. Since receiving that request, the Sea Gull Century has reached an agreement with those departments to provide services for this year’s event in exchange for a rate higher than in previous years and will take the request for additional funding into consideration when planning next year’s ride.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.