Cumberland Times-News

November 15, 2013

Hardy County commission can collect ambulance fees

$120 charge OK, W.Va. attorney general says

MARLA PISCIOTTA
Cumberland Times-News

— MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — As the feud between some 700 registered voters and two of the three Hardy County commissioners continues to escalate, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Friday, “The county commissioners have a constitutional duty to manage a county’s fiscal affairs, and thus collect any special fees.”

The ambulance authority does not have the power to collect special fees, Morrisey said.

The opinion from Morrisey was requested by Lucas See, county prosecuting attorney.

“We have not been asked to decide, however, whether a county commission could delegate its statutory power to an emergency ambulance authority,” Morrisey said.

In addition to the county commission placing a $120 ambulance fee on the residents in the county, voters say the commission purchased a $1.13 million building without taxpayers’ approval.

The commission passed an ordinance at the Nov. 12 meeting to place a levy on the ballot in the May election that would benefit the ambulance service in the county.

Earlier this month, attorney David Judy, representing the dissatisfied voters, filed suit against two commissioners to have them removed from office.

After hearing about Morrisey’s opinion Friday, Judy said, “This doesn’t have an impact on our case at all. It doesn’t change anything about what we are doing. Our position is that the ordinance is invalid from the beginning.”

“We have requested the courts to repeal the ordinance and remove the two county commissioners through the court system.”

 An attachment to the suit filed by Judy included 700 signatures asking for commission president Michael Teets and Commissioner William Keplinger Jr. to be removed from their position.

 Teets said Wednesday, an attorney has been hired.

“We have hired an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson, Martinsburg. Our attorney will be Bridget Cohee,” Teets said.

Teets said an answer regarding the suit has to be filed “sometime around the 25th.”

“I hate this situation for our county.”

Funding for the attorney will come from the West Virginia Corp. County Risk Pool, which holds the “removal” insurance policy as well as other insurances for the county, Teets said.

The levy would benefit Hardy County ambulance services and would raise tax on all classes for five years.

Although class one, which is 2.6 cents, is no longer in effect, the other classes are based on that figure.

The levy on class two will be 5.2 cents on $100 value, which includes personal and real property.

Classes three and four will have 10.4 cents levied.

One of the voters calls the actions of the commission “a debacle.”

John Elmore, who is a business owner and voter in the county,  said Friday that he does not have much faith in the county’s prosecuting attorney.

Elmore said previous statements given by See to the county commission were not in accordance with the state code, in his opinion.

 “The reason for the levy is to fix the debacle that exists now. This is an incompetent group. Things they’ve done thus far have been done if not illegally but with total disregard to the public,” Elmore said.

“Incompetence reins.”

Teets insists he doesn’t know what they have done wrong.

“We’ve done everything according to state code. I can see if we’d embezzled money for personal gain. We’ve done nothing like that,” Teets said.

Judy said regardless of the pending suit, the $120 ambulance fee continues to be collected from the taxpayers.

“Even if the levy is voted down in the election, the ordinance remains,” Judy said.

Judy said the only thing that would make it go away is a court ruling.

He said a hearing will be set to be heard by a three-judge panel to set the procedure on how it’s going to work.

“Taking the ordinance out is different from removing the commissioners from office. I’m not sure whether a local circuit judge makes a decision on the ordinance and the three-judge panel makes the decision whether to remove them from office,” Judy said.

Contact Marla Pisciotta at marlapisciotta@frontier.com.