LELAND, NC (WWAY) — Leland is losing their standalone EMS service. Brunswick County commissioners voted this week to absorb it back after budget battles. Thursday, town leaders ‘under duress’ agreed to the terms.
On July 1, the EMS service will be absorbed by the county EMS. This has many former volunteers and town leaders fired up.
“I can’t believe they would do this,” said Mayor Brenda Bozeman.
The decision came from county manager Ann Hardy according to town manager David Hollis. The town at their April 18 regular meeting approved a resolution requesting EMS funding assistance from Brunswick County in the amount of up to $813,000.00. The county declined to pay that amount, taking over the service will now cost them $180,000 per year.
“I’m not happy about this, but I don’t have an answer,” said councilman Rob Campbell.
The volunteer department was born roughly 60 years ago. In 2017, it began the transition to be a part of the town of Leland. Former president of the rescue squadron board Christopher Watford helped with that transition until the board dissolved in 2018.
“To see it gone is again just heartbreaking and shocking to me,” said Watford who began his career as a paramedic with the department.
Watford said he constantly recommended the department to aspiring paramedics, physicians assistants, and EMTs. Now he says the greatest loss will not be equipment or response times, but the educational aspects the department was recognized for.
“I have no worries that they [the county] will do their best to provide the best. However, there was not a reason for Leland to not be providing EMS,” said Watford. “And I feel that what we provided the county doesn’t provide which was volunteer opportunities, the educational opportunities you just don’t see there.”
The agreement voted on by Leland will result in dozens of volunteers being removed from the EMS service. The agreement allows for the currently paid 8 paramedics to stay in place. They would become county employees following a background check.
“When someone asks the County for upwards of three quarters of a million of your tax dollars to help fund a service that the County also provides, we have to look at it to see if we can provide it more cost-effectively without any gaps in service,” wrote county commission chair Frank Williams in a statement. The County’s action, while County-initiated, was a response to the Town’s request for $813,000.”
Leatha Thomas helped get the volunteer rescue squadron on its feet in the early 1970’s. She cannot make sense of the decision.
“I don’t know what to say I’m stunned,” Thomas said. “I think everyone in the town is going to be equally stunned when they realize they’re going to lose their internationally known department. Who throws that away, talk about throwing the baby with the bathwater.”
Watford and fellow leaders of the volunteer squadron question the financial requests from the town that set this series of events into motion.
“We’re going to lose the opportunity to really protect our citizens to one of the highest levels in this area,” said former squadron captain Michael Herbert before the town council.
“I doubt that we don’t have the money, I think that it’s just an excuse,” said Thomas.
Town manager David Hollis addressed council after Mayor Bozeman took the memorandum out of the consent agenda. The item was simply voted through the commission, but Bozeman wanted to hear from Hollis.
“To anyone who says we sought this and it was our decision to do it, they’re wrong,” Hollis said addressing public questioning.
Hollis negotiated with the county to keep the 8 paid paramedics currently there. In the end, state law, N.C. General Statute §153A-250, does not allow the town to challenge the county on the agreement. They can agree to the terms Hollis was able to negotiate and now deal with the result.
“We are the biggest town in the county and growing, and where is our respect,” asked councilman Rob Corriston.
The county will buy the three ambulances from Leland according to the agreement. That’s as long as they meet the standards the county will lay out for them Those units will be stationed at two locations, Industrial Park and the River Road station. The Village Road fire station will no longer have an EMS unit there.