Back to the drawing board

Published 10:31 am Tuesday, June 5, 2012

JACKSON – Despite the need for more a timely paramedic response time in the eastern portion of Northampton County, the Board of Commissioners have rejected a plan that would construct a county EMS substation in the Milwaukee community.

On Monday, the commissioners handed down their decision after a lengthy discussion about the matter. Following the decision they instructed County Manager Wayne Jenkins to analyze the costs of the Milwaukee site and the already existing rescue squad building in Woodland.

Meanwhile, in a separate motion, the board agreed to grant a franchise to Eastside EMS, which would help with EMS coverage on the eastern end.

During his presentation to the board, County EMS Director Charles Joyner noted the need for an eastern end substation as the county currently operates three ambulances out of the main station in Jackson and one other unit out of a substation at Roanoke Wildwood Fire Department in Henrico.

“What we’re looking at now is trying to get something on the east end that we can respond out of and hopefully get response time down to 10 minutes or less for a county paramedic to be on the scene for any call we have in the county,” he said.

Joyner said the county-owned property in Milwaukee (on Buck Boone Road) is almost directly in the center of the eastern portion of Northampton County and it is 10 minutes from Severn (the most northern town) and Rich Square (the most southern town).

In January the board gave Joyner the green light to move forward in seeking funding for the $140,000 substation project.

At Monday’s meeting Joyner brought forth a funding proposal, which included $80,000 that is currently available from the county’s E-911 fund, which can be reallocated for the project if used before June 30.

As for the other $60,000, Joyner said that could be financed over five years or could be paid out of this current year budget from surplus in the youth detention budget ($48,000) and reprogramming departmental budgets ($12,000), which was identified by Finance Officer Dot Vick.

When prompted, E-911 Director Ronald Storey Jr. explained the $80,000 was already in his department’s E-911 funding. The state is allowing the counties to utilize the funds this year for a “public safety need”. The cut off date to use those funds is June 30.

He added the substation could also serve as a secondary location for the county’s E-911 Center as the land is located adjacent to a communications tower, making it a prime area for a secondary E-911 Center.

“That was the pretense of being able to acquire this funding was having a spot in that building,” he said.

Storey said in order to use the funds for such purposes he had to present the NC E-911 Board Chair and did receive approval for the money to be used in the project.

“Basically, what it amounts to is that if you don’t use it (the funding), we’re not going to lose it, it’s going to stay in my fund, but I won’t be able to use it except for the 911 fund,” he said.

During discussion, County Attorney Charles Vaughan said the town of Woodland owns a rescue squad building (used formerly by Woodland EMS) and the county was talking about constructing a new facility.

“I know you’ve have had discussions about reaching an agreement with the town of Woodland for use of that building,” he said. “I wonder why we haven’t reached some agreement instead of building a new building.”

Jenkins responded the county had several conversations and meetings with town officials and there was never a resolution that could be brokered between the town, the rescue squad and the county at that time.

Vaughan, who also serves as town attorney for Woodland, said the existing rescue squad had no claim to the facility.

Jenkins noted it was not the commissioners long range goal to place an EMS substation in Woodland. Five years ago, the commissioners set a three prong plan: to have a second 24 hour EMS crew in Jackson, to establish a 24 hour paramedic crew at a satellite station at Lake Gaston and to place another crew at the eastern point of the county and be able to respond to either end of that portion in a timely manner.

“That was pushed forward and brought to action by the Board of Commissioners by the situation that developed out of the town of Woodland and the Woodland Volunteer Rescue Squad,” Jenkins said. “In other words, when Woodland dissolved that squad it took a responding unit out of our EMS service operation procedures.”

Jenkins added when Rich Square folded their Rescue Squad the county did not respond by placing a county EMS unit there.

“At that time the board felt that if they could not do it for Rich Square they shouldn’t do it for any other town,” he said.

Commission Vice Chair Robert Carter said he agreed with Vaughan in possibly using the Woodland facility in order to save money.

He added an EMS station in Woodland would serve Woodland as well as other areas on the east side.

“I know we’re dealing with a time frame in the use of these funds, but I sure wish we could take a few days and negotiate with Woodland,” Carter said.

After further discussion, Jenkins further cautioned the board on locating an EMS substation in Woodland.

“Frankly, you’re going to step on a political landmine if you’re not careful here because you’re going to have citizens that live in Rich Square or live in Lasker or live in Seaboard and they don’t have a county EMS station in that town,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the county has not looked at the Woodland facility, but it probably needed upgrades.

Jenkins questioned Storey if going with the Woodland facility would change the use of the E-911 funds.

“I need to be by that tower, that’s the whole purpose of me being in Milwaukee to be by that tower,” Storey responded. “Could I go to Woodland and do it, yes, but I would have to put in microwaves and everything else to communicate with that tower. If I stay by that tower they can run one line from the building to the tower and I can communicate with the whole radio system.”

Vaughan said he expected the town to donate the building to the county.

“Then the county would own that property at no cost,” he said.

Commissioner Fannie Greene questioned if the funding could still be used on the Woodland facility.

Storey said it could, but the Woodland facility would require more equipment.

After further discussion, Jenkins noted it was going to take some time in order to access the facility, negotiate with the town of Woodland for their EMS building and getting the radio lines in.

Commission Chair Virginia Spruill said it was an issue the board needed to resolve today.

Commissioner Joseph Barrett questioned if the county could be creative in scheduling paramedics so to avoid housing employees in the building.

“Instead of a 24 hour shift, could they go on an eight hour shift,” he asked.

“We have to provide 24 hour service,” said Jenkins.

He said Northampton County valued rescue volunteers, but there are times (especially holidays) when Northampton EMS has to cover the entire county.

“Ninety-five percent of the EMS coverage is coming out of your EMS station in Jackson, that’s why (there) the increase in operating cost,” Jenkins said.

Barrett said there is a need for the service, but he was concerned about increasing long term debt obligations.

After further discussion, Carter moved to approve the recommendation to place the substation in Milwaukee. Spruill offered a second. The motion failed in a 2-3 vote with Barrett, Greene and Commissioner Chester Deloatch voting against the measure.

The board further directed Jenkins to analyze the cost of putting the facility in Woodland as well as the cost of Milwaukee.

Jenkins estimated it would take 60 to 90 days to get that information back to the board.

Later in the meeting the board approved the franchise for Eastside EMS after the non-profit group submitted information needed for their application.

Jenkins recommended approval of the franchise for the best interest of the citizens.

“If granted it would not improve our response times in the eastern half of the county, it would only bring us back to where we were when Woodland Rescue Squad went out,” Jenkins said.

The measure passed in a 4-1 vote with Deloatch voicing opposition.

The commissioners’ action was approved pending the group completing vehicle and equipment inspection by the county’s Operational Manager as well as a state required inspection.