EMS study gets go-ahead

Paid services are possible; study expected to make county’s needs and choices clearer

The possibility of paid emergency medical services in Rappahannock County inched closer to probability Monday afternoon (Aug. 4), as the board of supervisors awarded the contract for an in-depth study of the county’s current volunteer-based EMS program to JLN Associates.

The Connecticut-based JLN Associates will assess the county’s seven volunteer companies, County Administrator John McCarthy said, and will, through interviews with the volunteers and data provided from the dispatch centers, help identify any potential problems and recommend long-term solutions.

“Our data is actually very elaborate for a rural county,” McCarthy noted, and includes entries like the total number of calls a given company ran, their response times, how many calls they were unable to answer and more.

Those solutions, McCarthy said, could include consolidation of some of the seven existing companies, or offering paid EMS services during the daytime hours (when many volunteers are often at work). “This study will address our probable futures and how to plan for them,” McCarthy said.

Chosen after a three-month search process that narrowed the field from six original proposals to three, McCarthy said a four-member committee — himself, Hampton district supervisor Bryant Lee, emergency services coordinator Richie Burke and Flint Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue vice-president Frank Huff — ultimately chose JLN because “we liked their methodology a bit better.”

The study and its recommendations should be completed by Jan. 1, McCarthy said, though he added that he would rather JLN take as much time as necessary to thoroughly evaluate every option. The contract was unanimously awarded, 4-0. (Lee was absent.)

“My feeling is that we’ll be moving toward paid daytime services,” McCarthy said. “One of the questions we’re hoping this study answers is how we stave that off.” McCarthy added that trimming the number of companies might be one such way.

“I recognize I’m colored by wanting to get the numbers down, but if we move toward [paid services], we’ve got to find some money somewhere. And one way to do that is not to pay for seven buildings.”

Centralized absentee voting

The supervisors also approved the creation of a central absentee voting precinct (CAP), though there was disagreement on exactly when such an idea should be implemented.

County voting registrar Kim McKiernan asked for permission to use the registrar’s office’s conference room as a CAP in time for the November primaries. A CAP would help considerably ease the staff’s workload when counting absentee ballots, McKiernan said.

Currently, absentee ballots are hand-transported to the five voting districts and hand-counted once the polls close; depending on the elections, McKiernan said, there could be anywhere from two to 400 ballots to count. A CAP would negate the need to transport the ballots, and would allow the registrar staff to run them through a machine (which, McKiernan said, the office has had for two years), rather than count them by hand.

The main disagreement came from a legal standpoint, McCarthy explained, as county attorney Peter Luke had questions about the CAP’s creation. Specifically, he said, Luke (who wasn’t at Monday’s meeting) had questioned whether the CAP could be housed within part of the registrar’s office and whether its creation would constitute the creation of a new polling district — and thus require notifying the county’s 6,000 registered voters.

“It’s just a processing center, not a new voting district,” McKiernan told the board.

McCarthy said Luke requested time to ask the state attorney general’s office for an opinion on both matters, which would make creating a CAP in time for the November primaries virtually impossible. While McKiernan said she was told by the state board of elections that such fears were unfounded, the supervisors sided with Luke.

“It’s a shame Peter’s not here, but it’s hard for me to go against our legal counsel,” said Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor Chris Parrish.

Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier proposed the board advertise the CAP for a public hearing at its Sept. 3 meeting and give Luke a chance to explain. That way, Frazier said, they could at least consider the creation of a CAP and delay its implementation to 2015 if necessary.

The rest of the supervisors agreed, and passed Frazier’s motion unanimously.

Duke pipeline choice expected this month

McCarthy also informed the board that a final decision on where Duke Energy will place its proposed pipeline is expected by the end of the month.

Several members of the public stood and thanked the board for its decision last month to oppose Spectra Energy’s natural gas transmission line, the only one of the three Pennsylvania-to-North Carolina pipeline proposals before Duke Energy that would cut through Rappahannock — including many properties, as last month’s resolution emphasized, that are protected by conservation easements.

Hampton district resident Anita Ramos thanked the board for being the first governing body to oppose the pipeline, and said she was “excited to tell people in Culpeper [County] how far ahead we are here in Rappahannock. We appreciate [your decision] as citizens of this county.”

Piedmont Environmental Council founder Phil Irwin also thanked the board, adding that its stand made it easier for PEC to solicit other organizations in the pipeline’s path to also take a stand against it. “Power follows the path of least resistance,” Irwin said.