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Deep in debt

JACKSON – Conway-Severn Rescue Squad is on the brink of closure, Captain Michael Davis told the Northampton County Board of Commissioners on Monday.

Davis initially sought $100,000 of unbudgeted funding from the county, but after several minutes of discussion, said, “$60,000 would take care of this month.”

After much discussion, the commissioners voted “reluctantly” to deny the request for additional funding.

Davis said C-S Rescue Squad had formed in 1977. He presented a fundraising letter he had written to local contributors that said, “Conway-Severn Rescue Squad, Inc. is at a crossroads of being able to continue these services without contributions/donations from our primary service area, as well as the Northampton County as a whole.”

He told the commissioners, “Our expenses this year exceeded our budget.”

CSRS income totaled $210,094 so far this year, but expenses, Davis estimated, are more than $300,000.

Davis asked that its billing be turned over to the county EMS, which would save CSRS about $600 per month.

Chuck Joyner, EMS director, said this move would save CSRS what they currently pay for billing services and would also increase the county’s revenue.

In answer to a query from commissioners, Joyner said if the funds were granted it would set a precedent others might request.

County Manager Kimberly Turner said that CSRS is of great benefit to the county and its citizens, “but my question is, where does the money come from?”

Commissioner Joseph Barrett asked Davis, “Without $100,000 Conway-Severn would not be able to stay afloat?”

Davis replied, “Pretty much. It would also leave the east end of the county without any rescue services if we had to close the doors.”

He said some monetary items could be removed. Past due bills for CSRS currently total $100,405.51, including local bills, truck payments, building payment, and the I.R.S.

Davis said that last year he discovered the Squad owed the IRS about $70,000, but has since reduced the amount owed to about $20,000.

“My predecessor left a terrible mess with the IRS,” Davis said. “All of our savings…we have expired all of them in order to pay off the IRS.”

Until they pay what they owe to IRS, the Squad is not eligible for grant funding, said Davis.

The Squad has increased the number of fundraisers and is trying to raise more funds from the community by direct solicitation, but CSRS has still not generated adequate funding.

An insurance payment for Squad personnel is due the 15th of this month and must be paid.

Turner informed the commissioners that any funds expended would have to come from contingency money, which is used for emergency funding for the county and only totals $100,000.

Commissioner Robert Carter reminded everyone that he lives in the Squad’s service area and then tried to reduce the amount requested in order to keep the Squad afloat.

Davis said some overdue bills could be held over, but the Squad would still need to pay $60,000 this month.

Carter suggested the Squad go to all the local churches to solicit donations.

Board Chairwoman Fannie Greene suggested Davis go to the Squad’s creditors to see if some loans could be restructured.

Asked what he thought, County Attorney Scott McKellar said his general concern is that, “We haven’t been shown any financials verifying how they got in this position. Are there any recent audits? Tax returns?

“My other concern is how will we be repaid?” McKellar asked. “If money is loaned, how are we going be repaid? There is no security.

“This is an unsecured loan,” he said. “There is significant risk here from a legal perspective.”

Turner asked when the Squad first knew that it was going to be this much in debt for December.

Davis replied they discovered in October about the looming debt. They increased fundraising and trying to get more contributions.

Barrett suggested that Squad get professional financial help. He also said he wanted to see the Squad continue.

Greene called for a motion.

Carter said, “Regretfully…I move your request be denied.”

The board unanimously denied the Squad’s request for funding.