The new fee was approved earlier this year with an August due date, but neither Church Hill EMS nor Hawkins County EMS has paid the bill. And prior to a special called Hawkins County 911 Board meeting Wednesday, neither had formally explained why
Church Hill EMS President Fred Arnold and Hawkins County EMS President Chili Sanders attended Wednesday’s special called Hawkins County 911 Board meeting, but it was Arnold who spoke up against the fee for both services.
Arnold said Church Hill EMS is cutting its budget by 8 percent this year to stay “in the black” due partly to reductions in TennCare payouts of 4.5 percent.
Arnold also expressed concern about what his board of directors perceived as an arbitrary and inequitable $5,000 figure for each ambulance service due to the volume of emergency dispatches not being equal.
Arnold also said his board believes there is no guarantee that at some point in the future the Hawkins County 911 Board wouldn’t increase that fee to $50,000.
Hawkins County 911 Director Gay Murrell said the $5,000 figure was set for each ambulance service to compensate her department for emergency medical dispatch training, which costs $9,540 annually.
Hawkins County Commissioner Robert Palmer, who chairs the Hawkins County 911 Board, also said that no one on the board would agree to a fee increase that wasn’t justified, and never one as drastic as $50,000.
Arnold noted that his board of directors operates on a January to December fiscal year, as opposed to most governmental agencies, which operate on July to June fiscal years. He said there was no money in the 2012 budget for this $5,000 bill.
As a result, Mount Carmel Mayor and Hawkins County 911 Board member Gary Lawson made a motion to postpone the due date for each ambulance service’s $5,000 bill to Jan. 30.
Lawson noted that the delay would give each EMS board an opportunity to discuss the fee and decide whether or not to include it in their 2013 budgets.
Lawson noted that if the fee isn’t paid by Jan. 30, the 911 board can meet again to decide what action should be taken.
In September, Murrell told the 911 board that if the ambulance services don’t wish to pay the fee, the state has said her dispatchers can begin transferring emergency 911 ambulance calls to each EMS service’s respective in-house dispatchers and let them conduct their own emergency dispatching.
The new EMS dispatching fees are part of Hawkins County 911’s attempts to be removed from the state’s list of financially distressed 911 systems in the state.
Hawkins County 911 has operated in the red for the past three fiscal years, and earlier this year it was declared a financially distressed system by the state.
Now the state is attending Hawkins County 911 Board meetings, monitoring the system’s fiscal activities, and encouraging the system to increase revenue.
Also attending Wednesday’s 911 board meeting was Curtis Sutton, who serves as general counsel for the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board. Sutton said the $5,000 annual fee is small compared to what EMS services in other counties pay.
“If the district doesn’t get back in the black, does not get off financially distressed, what can ultimately happen is this district can be merged with another district, which means this operation will go away,” Sutton said. “Another county would have to take over handling 911 calls. If that happens, that county will determine how they will handle your calls, how much of a fee they will charge, and I can tell you, they will not do it for free.”
Beginning with the fiscal year ending in 2009, Hawkins County 911 ended three consecutive fiscal years with a negative budget balance totaling $271,742 overall.
In August 2011, 911 revenue annual revenue was increased by just shy of $150,000 thanks to increases in 911 surcharges for residential and business telephone lines.
Murrell said she believes Hawkins County 911 will end the 2011-12 fiscal year in the black, although that won’t be official until an audit is completed.
Hawkins County 911 has an overall budget in 2012-13 of $876,516. As an independently governed agency, it receives an annual $175,000 contribution from Hawkins County, as well as $188,855 in state funding each year. The remainder of the budget is made up through surcharges and fees.
Both ambulance services receive $30,000 contributions annually from the Hawkins County Commission. Arnold said Church Hill EMS uses those funds to offset the cost of serving indigent patients.