• Tue. Jun 21st, 2022

Commission votes to create plan for county ambulance service; rehires its former CFO | Journal-news

ByChad J. Johnson

May 21, 2022

CHARLES TOWN — At the Jefferson County Commission’s regular meeting Thursday night, the panel of five commissioners voted unanimously to move forward to create a plan for the county’s ambulance service.

The vote comes after months of contention between commission members and members of volunteer fire and rescue societies who disagree on how services to county residents should be provided.

The commission obtained a study by Fitch & Associates that outlined three models the county could pursue to allegedly improve ambulance service in the county. The study was secured without any input from volunteer providers, raising serious concerns about the direction of the next steps for the ambulance service in the county.

Commissioner Steve Stolipher on Thursday showed in a lengthy motion that the county is moving toward developing an ambulance service run by the county commission.

Elements of the motion included directing the commission administrator to develop an organizational structure for the county ambulance service; consult with all experts, advisers and contractors necessary to assist in the creation and operation of the service; to obtain any suppliers or contractors necessary to assist in the creation and operation of the service; obtain all necessary licenses, certifications, permits and approvals to fulfill the commission’s directive to establish a county ambulance service; propose a final number of ambulances needed to provide service to the citizens of Jefferson County; negotiate the purchase of ambulances and obtain the necessary facilities to house and operate the ambulances; and to report to the commission on the progress made and to seek a new authorization if necessary.

The motion and unanimous vote came the same evening after two people, both volunteers in the county, objected to the removal of the ambulance service from volunteer positions.

In a motion at a previous meeting, members of a committee established by the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association presented proposals encouraging an increase in emergency personnel and the continuation of the combination of paid and volunteer provider services. .

The committee’s decision on Thursday appears to move away from that proposal. Instead, the county plans to purchase ambulances, possibly lease space at some of the county’s stations if an agreement on such lease can be reached, and pay for the service and any costs associated with the service.

Volunteers questioned the cost-effectiveness of such a move because currently the seven volunteer companies pay all costs for ambulances, supplies, insurance and other overhead, while the county provides paid EMS staff.

In addition to the county assuming all costs associated with ambulance service, the five government officials plan to provide service at four stations rather than the current seven locations. The potential plan removes all ambulances from Bakerton, Middleway and Blue Ridge Mountain departments, a move volunteers say will create longer service times and put lives at risk.

Along with the proposal to create the county ambulance service, the group has also taken steps to rehire Michelle Gordon as chief financial officer. Gordon had already resigned from his post in December last year and taken a job elsewhere.

Gordon left following controversy after a local watchdog group, Jefferson County Perspective, alleged that she misused funds in her previous job as chief financial officer for the city of Hagerstown. Longtime county administrator Stephanie Grove also quit amid the controversy. Administrative assistant Jessica Carroll also resigned from her position shortly after Gordon.

Carroll reapplied for her position when County announced and was rehired with a salary of $45,999, up from her starting salary of $43,634. Gordon was hired on Thursday at a rate of $104,000, up from the $99,170 she was earning when she left the job.

Additionally, commissioners voted to restore all vacation and sick leave accruals for both employees, as well as establish that their start dates would not change from when they were originally hired with the county. The start dates are to be used to offer merit pay increases in the coming year, according to a recent vote by the commission.

Four of the five commissioners approved Gordon’s rehiring. Tricia Jackson voted against the hire, asking that the commission first recreate a job description for the position following a recent audit by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office that showed many Tasks in the description should fall to County Clerk Jacki Shadle and her office rather than the county commission.

County Administrator John Nissel told commissioners the position was needed and recommended a May 23 start date for Gordon. Nissel also said there were 21 candidates for the position and that he alone interviewed five of those candidates before recommending Gordon’s rehiring.