Houston County Rescue Unit not included in potential license tag fee

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HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WTVY) - Those living in Houston County may see a $5 license tag fee on the ballot in November.

The money would go toward benefiting emergency management squads throughout the county, but one squad was left out.

Under the current writing of the legislative referendum, Ashford, Columbia, Cottonwood, Rehobeth, Wicksburg, Rescue Squads and Dothan Fire would benefit from the fee.

But the Houston County Rescue Unit wasn't mentioned.

It's been a nightmare as far as cash flow,” said Houston County Emergency Management Field Operation Liaison Rickey Stokes. “Getting into it, Medicare, Medicaid, you bill $506, they pay $44."

Ever since getting involved with Cottonwood Emergency Management Services a few years ago, Rickey Stokes has noticed that funding is a constant problem.

Then, Dale County did something last year that caught his attention.

"Chairman Blankenship in Dale County and the Dale County Commission passed the $5 tag fee to fund EMS,” said Stokes. “There's never been any funding just for EMS, and I've been kind of watching it in Dale County."

Stokes has watched it make $250,000 for Dale County EMS squads over the past year, and he projects it could make twice that in Houston County, which is a big boost from the $26,000 they currently get from the county.

As it stands, the proceeds would be divided evenly amongst Ashford, Columbia, Cottonwood, Rehobeth, Wicksburg, Rescue Squads and Dothan Fire.

Members of the Houston County Rescue Unit couldn't help but notice that they were left out.

"I was extremely disappointed that we were not at least contacted considering we are Alabama Association Of Rescue Squads members and are a recognized rescue squad in Houston County and we are funded by the Houston County Commission,” Houston County Rescue Unit Chief Ashton Davis.

"Now I support Houston County Rescue,” said Stokes. “I support Ashton. I support their mission. That's not the purpose of this legislation. This is for your emergency medical cases."

Houston County Rescue Unit assists law enforcement upon request with search and rescue, and specializes in public safety diving.

Davis thinks they deserve a share because everyone has a part to play when it comes to emergency management.

"They run low risk, high volume calls,” said Davis. “We run low risk or low frequency, but high risk calls."
Davis also mentioned Houston County Rescue has less than an $8,000 annual operating budget.
“We don't qualify for the fire tax,” said Davis. “We don't qualify for AFG FEMA grants because we're not a fire department. We don't qualify for tobacco tax which goes to support local fire departments. Therefore, we don't get any of that funding. Not being an EMS service, we can't bill for anything we do. There's not one thing in our practice that we can bill for."

Stokes says the idea would be more specifically geared toward keeping ambulances and ambulance crews up and running.

"If you need an ambulance, if you need a monitor, if you need a stretcher, salaries, stuff you need to save people's lives,” said Stokes.

While attention has been drawn to Houston County Rescue being left out, some Houston County Commission members were curious about Dothan Fire being included in the distribution of funds.

"Dothan Fire Department has got to be included in it because I don't know of a time that we've called Dothan Fire Department or even out of county has called Dothan Fire Department that they've ever refused to respond and assist,” said Stokes.

Dothan Fire Department's trucks are also retrofitted with advanced life support, which the county rescue squads rely on for more severe emergencies.

The legislative referendum has to go through the Houston County Commission before it can be presented as a state bill by a local legislator.

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