By Jean A. Flanagan
Moorefield Examiner –
“I can’t even walk into a restaurant and enjoy a meal with my wife without someone coming up to me and giving me grief about this. I do not wish to continue in this position.”
Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority President Greg Greenwalt told the Hardy County Commissioners on Tuesday he was resigning from his volunteer appointment to the HCEAA. “I will go to the meeting on Wednesday (July 9), but there will come a time when I won’t be at the meetings,” he said.
Greenwalt was elected president following Jerry Moore’s resignation last July. Moore resigned because of health issues, he said, were exacerbated by the stress of the ambulance authority situation.
The County Commission created the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority in November 2012, but didn’t appoint a board until February 2013. At that point, Wardensville Rescue Squad and Fraley’s Ambulance were struggling to provide emergency ambulance service to the eastern side of the county.
Greenwalt oversaw the expansion of the ambulance authority and the hiring of a second county paramedic. Under his watch, the HCEAA became licensed with the state to provide Emergency Medical Service to the citizens of Hardy County. Greenwalt applied for and the HCEAA received two state EMS grants which enabled them to purchase vehicles and equipment for Advanced Life Support service.
When the County Commission implemented the Special Emergency Ambulance Fee, Greenwalt worked with the county coordinator and a software company to combine tax and assessor’s files to facilitate billing.
On several occasions, Greenwalt communicated the HCEAA Board’s desire not to be involved in the collection of the ambulance fee.
“At the October 15, 2013 meeting, we discussed that the HCEAA would not get involved in the billing,” Greenwalt told the commission last week. “We felt our responsibility was to provide a service, not part of the collection of the fee.”
Both state code and the West Virginia Attorney General have said the responsibility of collecting fees is the county commission’s and the county commission’s alone.
“We conclude that an emergency ambulance authority does not have the statutory power to collect special emergency ambulance fees imposed under West Virginia Code §7-15-7,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wrote in a letter to Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See in November 2013. “We determine that a county commission, not an emergency ambulance authority, has the statutory power to collect the special emergency ambulance fees permitted by West Virginia Code §7-15-17.”
When questions about exonerations were ignored by the County Commission, Greenwalt made the effort to review the requests and reply to the property-owner.
“The problem is that if a structure ever existed on that property, the assessor’s office has a record,” Greenwalt told the commissioners. “If that structure falls down or becomes otherwise uninhabitable, the assessor fixes a $0 value, so they don’t get a tax bill. But the records still indicate there is a structure, which generates an (ambulance fee) bill.”
In January, the HCEAA began paying each of the three county ambulance companies a $20 per call stipend. The move was an effort to entice certified ambulance drivers, of which there seemed to be a shortage. The plan was only marginally successful because the individual companies did not pass on the stipend to their drivers.
In June, final notices were sent to residents of the county who did not pay the original invoice for the ambulance fee. People called, e-mailed and came to the courthouse to express their displeasure with the fee. When they couldn’t get a returned call from the county coordinator, they called the Assessor’s office. “The final notices got peoples’ attention,” said Hardy County Assessor Jim Wratchford.