While St. Mary’s commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday evening to obtain citizens’ input on a legislative proposal granting the board the authority to bill residents for ambulance rides, no callers provided public comment.
Since the county’s EMS system was at critical mass throughout 2020, county commissioners worked to provide extra help, slotting $475,000 of emergency federal funding, which was to provide economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic, to hire supplemental personnel to decrease volunteer rescue squad response times and increase efficiency. They also began a discussion on the potential of EMS billing to help pay for rescue squad services once the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding was no longer available.
The supplemental staffing that has been provided to rescue squads has been very successful in the early stages, but each of the seven rescue squads have been expressing concern regarding funding when CARES dollars run out, and their need to continue with supplemental staffing through 2021, according to county staff.
At the hearing, David Weiskopf, county attorney, told commissioners, “Currently in Maryland you can only bill for ambulance services if you meet the definition of an ambulance provider.” He said right now the county would not meet that definition, so the legislation is to allow the county to be deemed having jurisdiction over emergency services for the purpose of billing for ambulance services.
“The intent here is to provide ambulance service,” Stephen Walker, director of the county’s department of emergency services, said. “We’re in the business of saving lives. That is the goal here.”
When asked in an interview last month, Walker said “this is not set in stone,” but a person could be charged between $400 and $600 for an ambulance ride and services. He added that staff want to make sure all departments are in agreement and emphasized they “are not going after anyone who can’t pay.”
While the floor was open to public comment, no residents called into the Jan. 5 hearing.
Although some feedback was provided by citizens prior to the meeting, Rebecca Bridgett, county administrator, said the public comment period will remain open until the close of business on Jan. 12. Residents can email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or send mail to P.O. Box 653, Leonardtown, MD 20650.
Earlier in the day, commissioners held a public hearing regarding transferring to the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department property that they say is no longer needed for a public purpose.
Commissioners own a parcel of land containing 0.09 acres located in Lexington Park next to the Bay District firehouse, as part of the commissioners’ rights-of-way known as “South Coral Place” and “Tulagi Place,” as described in a deed from the United States of America to the St. Mary’s County commissioners, dated March 1949.
Earlier this year, Bill McKissick, a local attorney, on behalf of his client, Tulagi Place LLC, met with the county attorney’s office to discuss a proposed land purchase of the alleyway.
While county directors were not able to identify a use for the land, commissioners originally directed the office to sell the property by way of a public auction.
However, at a Dec. 15 meeting, Weiskopf told commissioners the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department requested the board instead consider “donating that strip of land” to them, which commissioners are allowed to do since the department is a registered nonprofit.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Keith Fairfax, a representative from the fire department, said the department “certainly would appreciate” the property being transferred to them so they can “move ahead with development of that corner there.”
Another caller, Linda Palchinsky, the owner of Linda’s Cafe located near the alleyway, said the property had “not been taken care of by anyone but me,” claiming she has paid for snow removal so delivery trucks could get through. She expressed concern with the newly-paved side walks potentially going up for sale along with the property and degrading the appearance of the area.
“I’ve been there 32 years and I’ve kept up that block … the alleyway is used by me and two other businesses,” she said.
The public comment period regarding the transfer of the alleyway will remain open until the close of business on Jan. 12.