Highland County Supervisors Plan to Revise EMS Fee Ordinance
The Highland County Board of Supervisors is planning to amend the Emergency Medical Services Fee ordinance – to assess only one EMS fee per landowner. At a work session on Wednesday night, the Board discussed the ordinance and set a public hearing for its April 6th meeting on a draft of the amended ordinance. The Board may also vote to adopt the amended ordinance at that meeting. County Attorney Melissa Dowd plans to have a draft ready by March 25th. Any changes to the ordinance will be effective going forward, so property owners still need to pay the fees they were assessed in 2020.
There was discussion that the proposed change in the ordinance will affect the number of fees paid, which will affect how much money is generated. The fee may be raised to meet the amount of money needed to pay for EMS costs. The number of landowners needs to be determined to see how much will be raised. In 2020, the amount the county planned to collect from the EMS fee was just over $340,000. The EMS fee is to be used only for funding paid Emergency Medical Services.
Under the current form of the ordinance, the EMS fee is $150 a year and it is assessed on every habitable dwelling and on full time residential rental property. If a property owner pays the fee on a habitable dwelling, they do not pay the fee on any vacant land parcels they own. Property owners of vacant land pay one fee, regardless of the number of vacant land parcels they own. The EMS fee is not assessed on businesses.
The development of the EMS Fee ordinance and how to assess its fee was based on how the enterprise (trash) fee is assessed. County Attorney Melissa Dowd said the number of households currently paying the trash fee is 1,939.
There have been a lot of questions about the EMS fee and confusion about the ordinance. Many questions and different scenarios came up regarding businesses and how to verify businesses. At the work session Dowd had a question about rental property, asking if a rental house was a business. It generated income for its owner, so was it considered a business that is not assessed a fee, but it was also a habitable dwelling. She also brought up a question about a house that is only used as an office for a farm. Should it be assessed a fee? It is classified as a business, but it is a habitable dwelling. Board Chair Harry Sponaugle said the Board needed to decide if the ordinance should be one fee per household and work from there. He said all the questions will have different answers depending on which way the Board decided on the ordinance. Supervisor David Blanchard said assessing one fee per landowner would solve a lot of problems.
There was a public comment saying that this revision was being rushed, not giving taxpayers time to review the proposed changes. County Attorney Melissa Dowd said that changes need to be done by May 1st in order to meet the Commissioner of the Revenue deadlines.
Dowd also explained that fire and rescue personnel are not exempted from this EMS fee, because it is not allowed under the state code.