After a lengthy work session
with the Board of County Commissioners last Thursday, members
of the Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. agreed to cease billing
customers for ambulance transport.
In return, the commissioners
will release $17,175 in appropriations that they had withheld
after learning of the company's billing program.
On Oct. 8, Emmitsburg
Ambulance began billing insurance companies $300 for each call
requiring patient transport.
Commission President David P.
Gray (R) responded by withholding funds and threatening to
suspend the company's operations if it did not cancel its
Gray said that, by law, the
county commissioners regulate fire and rescue services,
requiring their permission for the company 's billing program.
He also expressed concerns that the billing would interfere
with plans to begin countywide ambulance billing in July 2002.
At the work session,
representatives of Emmitsburg Ambulance justified the billing,
citing an April 29 letter from Charles Abrecht, then president
of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
They felt that the letter,
written to the president of the Vigilant Hose Co. in
Emmitsburg, threatened the ambulance company with a 90 percent
drop in county appropriations in fiscal year 2003.
Abrecht's letter stated that
the association's budget task force recommended that, in the
future, all expenditures be funded by the fire tax districts.
Currently, capital expenses - equipment, paid personnel
salaries and station improvements - come from the fire tax
districts, while operational expenses come from the county's
The recommendation of the
task force would have to be included in the county's
legislative packet to the state delegates and approved by the
General Assembly before going into effect.
If passed, the letter stated,
Emmitsburg fire and rescue companies would then only be
eligible for the minimum county funding - $6,000 for the
ambulance company and $15,000 for the fire company - since the
town successfully opted out of tax district inclusion earlier
Keith R. Havens, the attorney
for Emmitsburg Ambulance, said the company had started the
billing in advance of any legislative decisions to make sure
there were "no kinks" in the program.
The county commissioners
denied they had any plans to submit the task force's request
to the county's General Assembly delegates.
Commissioner John "Lennie"
Thompson Jr. (R) said, that while the $6,000 funding could
happen in theory, he did not see it happening in the near
Commissioner Jan Gardner (D)
concurred, adding that she had not seen Abrecht's letter prior
to the work session.
Emmitsburg Mayor William H.
Carr's main concern was that the ambulance company survive
until countywide billing begins.
"I can't believe that
Emmitsburg Ambulance wanted to dissociate from the rest of the
ambulance companies," Carr said. He said the company had
been "frightened" by the threat of a 90 percent drop
Commissioner Terre Roy
Rhoderick (R) repeatedly asked the company why, since the
letter was issued in April, the company did not broach its
program with the commissioners earlier.
Gardner added, "The
first time I knew when you were billing was when I read it in
Havens responded that the
letter was addressed to the Vigilant Hose Co., not Emmitsburg
Ambulance. "They didn't get it until much later,"
Havens said. "We don't have an exact date."
Both sides agreed that
communication between the commissioners, the association and
company officials needed improvement. Emmitsburg Ambulance
representatives said that mail from the association is
sometimes sent to an officer's home address. Since the company
had recently changed administrations, the current officers may
have never received some association correspondence.
President Joseph Pelkey said his company had been notified of
association meetings with only a day's notice, or sometimes
after the meeting.
Donald Lachman, president of
the fire and rescue association, said the group has met on the
third Thursday of every other month for about 37 years.
"There really is very
little excuse for not knowing of our meeting dates,"
Thompson moved to rescind
Gray's letter, saying he disagreed with the county's
interference because "we may never implement county
"It's none of the
county's business whether a private company chooses to charge
for a service," he said.
The motion failed 1-3.
Rhoderick (R) left the meeting before the vote.
While Commissioner Richard B.
Weldon Jr. (R) said he was uncomfortable with the concept of
"brinksmanship," he said, like the other
commissioners, that it was not his intent to carry through
with the recommendation in Abrecht's letter.
After Havens agreed that the
company would stop billing and notify both the association and
commissioners before resuming, commissioners voted 4-0 to
release the appropriation.
After the meeting, Pelkey
implied that there was more to the billing dispute than was
discussed before the commissioners.
"There's other issues
that we haven't brought up," he said, declining to reveal
when the issues would come to the fore.
Pelkey also said that the
company has been listed as getting copies on letters that it
had never received and that some meeting dates had been
changed without notification.
When asked which association
meetings the company did not know about, Emmitsburg Ambulance
Chief Steven King replied, "Some of them we did; some of
them we didn't. It's a big blur."
In an interview Monday,
Pelkey said his company heard about some of the association's
meetings through word of mouth. He said the company had not
even received the Nov. 8 letter from Gray.
"That's why we're
talking about lack of communication," Pelkey said.
"To us, that's an important issue."
Pelkey emphasized the company
was only ceasing the billing at this time - not canceling the
He also reiterated the
concerns voiced at the work session about the Walkersville
Volunteer Ambulance Co., which has had a pilot billing
program, originally intended to last six months, in place