Members of the public generally expressed support for a proposal to create an ambulance district to cover Ashley County’s delta area, but were hesitant to endorse its proposed funding mechanisms.
The Ashley County Quorum Court hosted a public hearing about the proposal Friday, and fielded more questions at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Tuesday.
If the proposed ordinance the Quorum has been discussing is ultimately enacted and is not substantially altered, it will create an emergency services district that provides ambulance service to all the county except the areas of the Crossroads, Cooter, Crossett Rural West, Crossett Wards No. 1, 2 and 3, North Crossett East and West, Hickory Grove and Votech voting precincts. The Crossett Fire Department will cover those areas.
A draft ordinance the county attorney provided for discussion says that the district will be funded by a $100 fee “per household within the district.”
The draft says household will include “all commercial property as well as all resident property, including but not limited to: residences, mobile homes, manufactured housing, metal frame buildings with living quarters, cabins, lodges, and each individual housing unit in a hotel, motel or multi-plex housing.”
Resident Ricky Knight, who attended Tuesday’s meeting as a representative of a number of landlords and business owners in the Hamburg area, said the businesspeople he represented needed clarification.
A $100 fee for every property someone owns could put an unfair burden on landlords, he said.
“For some of us, that can add up a lot,” Knight said. “Some people own, 20, 30, 40 houses and multiple businesses. Then you have people who don’t own houses, they live in rental properties.
“It’s not fair for some people to have to pay $5,000 to $6,000, while some pay nothing. It’s not that we want to get out of paying our fair share. We just want everybody to pay their fair share.”
The Quorum’s attorney, Richard Byrd, said the language in the ordinance needed to be cleaned up, but that the fee would not be attached per parcel. It would instead be attached per tax ID.
“If you assess anything in the county — if you have a car, cat, dog, chickens — you are on the tax roll and you are findable,” Byrd said. “They are going to get $100 tacked onto it when they get that bill in March.”
That arrangement does mean that people who own property privately and own property through a business will have two fees assessed.
“You’ll have one for the (limited liability corporation), one personally,” Byrd said. “One of the reasons businesses were included is because, to a certain degree, people who make more money, who have more property, have a larger responsibility. We want it to be fair.”
The draft ordinance says the fee will be assessed when the county tax collector receives residents’ ad valorem taxes, and the tax collector, “shall not accept payment of any ad valorem taxes unless the taxpayer at the same time pays any service charges billed to him or her to finance the district.” A 10 percent penalty will be added to any household that does not pay the fee by Oct. 15.
When an attendee at Tuesday’s meeting asked how the county would assess someone who rents their housing and does not have any taxable property such as a car, Byrd said a few people might slip under the radar.
“In government, I wish I could say there was some way to get everybody,” he said. “We are not (going to get everybody). But we are going to go broad.”