Billing for EMS service proposed

Rappahannock County’s Board of Supervisors entertained a proposal Monday to start billing insurance companies for ambulance trips made by the county’s all-volunteer emergency medical service (EMS) squads, in an effort to offset the rising costs of such services.

Also at its regular monthly meeting Monday afternoon, it heard reports that volunteered “donations” from county property-taxpayers could total $10,000 by year’s end. This is the first year that tax bills included the option to donate.

The board members heard comments and discussed the possibility of charging for emergency services in an effort to raise more money for the volunteer fire and rescue departments in the county. Though the county contributed $727,000 to fire and rescue squads this year via the Fire Levy Fund, rising costs have left the companies in need of more financial support.

Under the plan, county residents who require ambulance or emergency medical services would be shielded from any out-of-pocket costs; the county would cover any co-pay costs for those with insurance, and the uninsured or those who can’t cover the costs would not be billed.

County Administrator John McCarthy said later that the county would likely hire an outside billing company to collect the charges and bill the insurance companies. McCarthy said the most the county could make from such charges is $400,000, but noted that this “ideal figure” presumes everyone could pay and does not include the 7- to 15-percent cost of a third-party billing company.

Still, it would help take a bite out of ever-rising costs for the county’s seven volunteer fire and rescue companies.

“Grants simply don’t cover the costs,” said Paul Komar, president of Castleton Community Volunteer Fire and Rescue, who estimated the companies run about 1,000 calls annually. Komar explained that grants are available to the companies, but are primarily matching grants that cover anywhere from half to 80 percent of the cost of equipment and training; companies are always left with something to pay. Komar stressed that volunteer departments have to raise 60 percent of their operating costs through donations and constant fundraisers.

Furthermore, Komar told the board members that much of the equipment the departments use and need, such as automated stretchers, are very expensive and are simply unaffordable right now.

“This is one significant step to continue operating as volunteers,” McCarthy told the supervisors. “Not everyone is convinced yet, but most people are.”

McCarthy also said all county departments would receive some of the funding, though companies with greater expenses would likely receive more. The idea of forming a committee to examine this possibility was raised at the meeting; the supervisors approved the idea, but have not officially formed the committee nor named any members. The matter will be revisited at the board’s January meeting.

The board heard a report from McCarthy, who informed the supervisors that the donation form attached to county property tax bills since April has already resulted in $9,083 being donated to the county.

“I was very skeptical about this idea,” said McCarthy. “But there are still two days left [to collect this money], so it’s entirely possible we could collect $10,000.”

The form also allows donors to request a category for their money to be spent on; according to McCarthy, schools and law enforcement received the most donation requests, with $3,000 being given with “no preference.” Under Virginia law, none of the donors’ requests can be binding, but the supervisors agreed last year that following donors’ wishes as much as possible would be their preference.

McCarthy said he would have a full account of the funds received, and possibly recommendations on how to spend it, at the board’s January meeting.

The board concluded its afternoon meeting by unanimously approving a salary supplement for newly appointed Registrar of Voters Kimberly McKiernan.

Both Tom Junk and Francie Schroeder, the secretary and chair, respectively, of the county’s electoral board, spoke on McKiernan’s behalf, urging the board to grant her the salary supplement.

“The registrar is very invested in Kim,” said Schroeder of the longtime Sperryville resident. “But she needs to make enough money to actually live here.”

“We were up the creek without a paddle when she stepped in,” agreed Junk. “She’s very competent . . . and this is a full-time job. It’s [also] already in the budget,” Junk continued, noting that a similar supplement was paid to former registrar Nancy Newlin.

Board member Chris Parrish thanked McKiernan for her work, but said he believed the registrar position was “80 percent [of a] full-time [job].” A former longtime electoral board member, Parrish noted that the registrar’s office is not actually open full-time throughout the year and thus could not be considered a true full-time job.

Parrish said other county registrars’ salary supplements vary widely; he estimated McKiernan’s job was roughly 80 percent of a full-time job, therefore, she should get “80 percent of the raise,” meaning the supplement. Using $10,000 as the measure of what would be awarded if the position were full-time, the board voted 4-0 (Hampton district supervisor S. Bryant Lee was absent) to grant McKiernan an $8,000 supplement, increasing her annual salary to $44,000.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” said McKiernan. “I’m glad to be able to work in my own county that I’ve lived in for 20 years.”