Fired-Up Citizens Confront Commissioners on Proposed Hotel Tax Distribution Changes
At the December 20th Pocahontas County Commission Meeting, when the agenda item to discuss Commissioner John Rebinski’s proposal to fund a county paid EMS Service by cutting back on some of the money other organizations receive from the Hotel Occupancy Tax – often called the Hotel/Motel Tax – the commissioners needed to adjourn the meeting in their office and reconvene it a few minutes later in the courtroom to accommodate the approximately fifty citizens who passionately represented both sides of this issue who showed up.
Commissioner John Rebinski made opening remarks. “To begin with, there’s been a lot of things going around and being said to the wrong people, and they have been targeted,” said Rebinski. “And, I want to let you know if anybody has any disapproval or approval or mad at anybody, be mad at me, not some of the people that have been targeted who have been falsely blamed and accused. Put it this way, I am standing right here.”
Rebinski explained the purpose of this discussion is because of the EMS Services crisis the county is facing. He said that for many years volunteer EMS providers have served the people of the county and saved the county lots of money, but there are now very few people willing to undergo the very lengthy and difficult training and schooling necessary to be qualified to provide emergency medical services on the ambulances. He said that many current EMS volunteers are very concerned that there not enough new volunteers joining up to ensure that an ambulance will always be available 24 hours a day if someone calls 911 needing emergency medical help. Rebinski said with so few qualified EMS volunteers left in the county, those that are, like himself, give up just about everything else in their lives, such as vacations, shopping or just doing something personally enjoyable, lest someone might not receive a timely medical response, when they are suffering an emergency medical crisis.
Rebinski said that State Code requires that County Commissions ensure that there is full ambulance coverage in their counties. To ensure that service continues, he is making a proposal to divert $170,000 of the discretionary portion of the Hotel/Motel Tax Revenues to hire paid EMS professionals to staff the day shifts at the volunteer departments in the Northern part of the county. Rebinski said the program would, as quickly as possible, be expanded to cover the day shifts in the rest of the county as well. He said this will allow the current volunteers to cover the evening and night shifts.
This plan, Rebinski said, if approved by the commissioners at a future meeting, will only be a temporary solution to prevent an imminent crisis but ultimately a future permanent funding solution will be necessary.
The EMS people in the audience supported the proposal, while people from some of other organizations objected, feeling there should be a better way to assure EMS coverage than by hurting valuable community organizations. Some people suggested that since the EMS organizations bill a patient’s medical insurance for provided ambulance service, that should be sufficient to fund EMS. Rebinski and others responded to this saying that insurance companies usually only pay a very small portion of an ambulance bill, plus many people needing ambulance services don’t have medical insurance.
Sam Gibson also objected to the proposal, saying it involves just taking money from one group and giving it to another group, and the county should have seen this crisis coming years ago and fixed it before now.
Many others expressed similar problems and objections to this proposed plan.
Be sure to listen to part two of this meeting story, where we will provide additional details on the proposed modifications to the distribution of the Hotel Motel Tax funds, and also let you know what else happened at this meeting.