Published 10:22 am Monday, April 16, 2012

WOODLAND — The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has responded with some answers regarding the Woodland EMS issue.

On Thursday evening, Mayor James Ellis Garris shared the response with the Woodland Town Board of Commissioners, which determined the two ambulances in question as belonging to the town.

However, the ownership of the former town department’s EMS equipment and the Woodland Rescue Squad Benevolent Fund was not concluded.

The town and former rescue squad members have been at odds over the vehicles, equipment and funds since Woodland EMS was dissolved last September by the town after the department’s budget ran more than $60,000 into the red. The Benevolent Fund is currently frozen and has a balance of $37,060.

“Without information from the Town Board of Commissioners and the Board Members of the Woodland Volunteer Rescue Squad Benevolent Fund concerning how the transfer from volunteer Rescue Squad to Town Department of Emergency Medical Services was accomplished, including any agreements on how the Woodland Volunteer Rescue Squad Benevolent Funds was to be handled, I am unable to form an opinion regarding ownership of various pieces of equipment and the bank account,” Assistant State Attorney General Susannah P. Holloway wrote in her advisory letter to Town Attorney Charles Vaughan.

Garris referred to a section of the letter that states there is an entity registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State as an active non-profit corporation called “Woodland Volunteer Rescue Squad Benevolent Fund,” in which the Articles of Incorporation were filed in 1991.

In her letter Holloway wrote, “An Amendment to the Woodland Volunteer Rescue Squad Benevolent Fund was filed on October 17, 2011 with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office amending its Articles of Incorporation as follows:

Article VII. Upon the dissolution of the corporation, assets shall be distributed for one or more exempt purposes within the meaning of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code, or corresponding section of any future federal tax code, or shall be distributed to the federal government, or a state or local government, for a public purpose. Any such assets not so disposed of shall be disposed of by the Superior Court of the county in which the principal office of the corporation is them [sic] located, exclusively for such purposes or to such organization or organization, as said court shall determine which are organized and operated exclusively for such purposes.

Holloway goes on to note that prior to that October 17, 2011 amendment, Article VII read in “pertinent part”: “The moneys of the corporation shall be transferred to the town of Woodland if the corporation should cease to exist.”

Holloway wrote that there are no other documents on file with the Secretary of State detailing the current status and recent history of the Woodland Volunteer Rescue Squad Benevolent Fund.

“Therefore, it is unclear what happened with this entity when the Town of Woodland created its own Department of Emergency Medical Services,” the letter states.

“What the letter is saying is that it’s not clear it’s our funds, it’s not clear it’s their funds, there’s really nothing that we can do at this point,” said Commissioner Lloyd Lee Wilson.

Commissioner Jean Barnes asked if there was any way to determine if the funds belong to the town.

“It would probably take a detailed reconstruction of the Benevolent Fund over its entire existence and it would be very difficult to prove it definitively because the moneys were co-mingled and spent in a co-mingled state,” said Wilson.

After further discussion, Wilson noted it might be possible to enter into third party mediation with the former EMS personnel over the equipment and funds.

“The only thing that seems clear now is that the town has a clear title to those vehicles and the town has been approached, as I understand, by some other folks that would like to use them,” Wilson said. “That was months ago, before the (municipal) election, and I don’t know what is going on now.”

Barnes said she thought mediation would be a good idea.

“If they will agree,” Commissioner Joe Lassiter said.

“That’s the name of the game,” responded Wilson.

Wilson said he would be willing to work with Town Clerk Kim Bryant to see what mediation services are available and report back to the board on costs.