Highland County Board of Supervisors Discusses Confusion Surrounding EMS Fee Ordinance
One ordinance, two different interpretations. That was the discussion about the new Emergency Medical Services fee Tuesday evening at the Highland County Board of Supervisors’ work session.
The EMS fee is $150 a year and it is to be used only for funding paid Emergency Medical Services. The development of the ordinance and how to assess its fee is based on how the existing enterprise (trash) fee is assessed. The EMS ordinance says the fee will be charged to every habitable dwelling and also to parcels of vacant land. It says if you own multiple parcels of vacant land, you will pay only one fee. If you own a habitable dwelling and a parcel of vacant land, you will pay only one fee. The ordinance also contains the statement “no single landowner shall be assessed more than one EMS fee.” The confusion occurred regarding landowners who own more than one habitable dwelling. Would they pay one fee no matter how many habitable dwellings they owned or would they pay a fee on each habitable dwelling they owned?
Board Chairman David Blanchard said his assumption was one fee would be charged per property owner. Board members Harry Sponaugle and John Moyers, Jr. both said it was not their understanding that only one fee would be charged, when owners have multiple habitable dwellings. County Attorney Melissa Dowd said she could have done better and that she understood the ordinance the way David Blanchard did. Local media and many Highland tax payers took one understanding from discussions at the board meetings, one fee per property owner. Yvonne Wimer, Commissioner of the Revenue, and Lois White, County Treasurer, said their understanding was one fee per each habitable dwelling.
County Attorney Melissa Dowd said the language in the ordinance could be interpreted differently, but that the language would support whatever interpretation the board decided on and the language could be changed later. She suggested the board vote to make a decision on interpretation for the rest of the year and then see how much money is raised and see if it will cover the EMS costs.
After much discussion, the Board voted to assess the EMS fee to every habitable dwelling. The fee will also be assessed to full time residential rental property, that is also assessed an enterprise fee. One fee will be assessed to each vacant land property owner regardless of the number of vacant land parcels they own, but only if they are not paying the EMS fee on any habitable dwelling. The EMS fee will not be assessed on businesses, including tourist homes and B & B’s.
John Moyers, Jr. and Harry Sponaugle voted in favor of this interpretation and David Blanchard voted no, saying he was going to stay with his original intent of the ordinance.
The Board discussed a number of specific questions from property owners on how it will be assessed when parcels are owned by LLCs, corporations, trusts or more than one person. David Blanchard stressed that the fee could go up or down in the future and the Board will revisit it when there is more clarity on costs.