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County writes off COVID-19 debt

The Surry County Board of County Commissioners met Monday evening in Dobson for their regularly scheduled meeting. While their agenda was light that evening, one item was back on the agenda from the week before involving COVID relief money.

Surry County Emergency Management Director Eric Southern summarized the situation for the board that in 2020 when the Federal emergency declaration on the pandemic was released, the county was informed there as a fund from which the county could pay for COVID related ambulance transports.

When that fund ran out, the county was still providing EMS runs for COVID patients and not billing them for the ride, as the Federal government had taken over the costs of those rides. Now the county still owes a balance on those rides to and from the hospital for COVID care to the tune of $23,410.70.

For comparison, Southern asked for a comparison of the write off amount of $23,410.70 compared to other counties similar in size and was told the average write off amount was $71,000 with the highest being near $300,000/

At their last meeting, the commissioners were asked to write off that amount as unbillable and unrecoverable because the guidance, Southern said, at that time was that any expenses for COVID would come from that fund.

This is where Commissioner Van Tucker found a sticking point last meeting, just as he did at this meeting. He questions the rationale of the funding that was mandated for these EMS transports, “At that time, there was no other option? Even for those people with the Cadillac Blue Cross Blue Shield? I don’t quite understand this.”

“I am a little confused myself,” Southern admitted of the federal funding. He said though once a doctor made a diagnosis that the patient was transported for COVID, “That’s where the money had to come from.”

“I’m sure there are people with insurance cards would have wanted to pay or submit the bill to the insurers. Some people wanted to pay it, some people probably just had paid their bill when these funds were approved, and others were charged the day the fund ran out,” Tucker observed. “It’s interesting to me that with the government statute we can’t go back and recoup our losses.”

Tucker acquiesced that the county had no recourse but to write off the EMS transport costs as unrecoverable and made a motion to that end. The board concurred and the measure passed unanimously.

In other board of commissioners news:

– The board was asked to give their approval to the conveyance of surplus medical items from the county to find use with other groups rather than be sent to the landfill. The board approved the transfer of two Stryker Power-Pro 6500 XT stretchers, with mounting brackets, to Pilot Mountain Rescue and EMS. Similarly, nine complete sets of Scott SCBA 4.5 Airpacks, with bottles, were deemed surplus and no longer needed by the county. They are being conveyed to the Surry Community College Firefighter and Rescue Program to train the next generation of local first responders.

– Surry County Health Director Samantha Ange requested from the board’s permission to purchase a mobile phone application that she said would be used to share “valuable information and resources with the community and partners in almost real time.” The cost of the mobile application is $24,855 but Ange in her request said no additional county funds would be needed but rather remaining COVID-19 funds would be used.

The speed with which information could be disseminated from the county to its residents is of interest to the Health Department. Other county offices have similar desire to reach residents as was explained during the funding request made for Surry on the Go, the county’s streaming application that will be found on Spectrum cable and will give the county another nearly immediate path to get information to residents.

– The board was asked to give their approval to the slate of Trustees for Northern Regional Hospital, all four of which have graciously agreed to serve another term. Teresa Lewis, Paul Patterson, Tom Riggs, and Ann Vaughn were renominated to serve another term as Trustees and the board approved.

Nikki Hull of the Surry County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council asked the board to approve a change to that council’s membership. Juan Sanchez was approved to be the Health Department Designee replacing Allie Willard, the outgoing health department representative.

– County Tax Administrator Penny Harrison presented the commissioners a list of foreclosed properties that the county is ready to sell after having made the required official notices. She told the board her department has sent numerous statements out to collect the outstanding taxes and they have now exhausted all means to collect on the delinquent taxes.

The properties listed are found in Mount Airy at 263 Maple Dr., 1185 S. Main St., a vacant lot on Bowman Rd., another vacant lot on N. South St., and 220 Cedar Gate Ln. Also, a parcel of land at 916 Jenkinstown Rd. in Dobson was listed. Harrison submitted the tax values on each parcel and asked the commissioners to accept the opening bids on each and proceed to finalizing the foreclosures, to which they agreed.

Commissioner Van Tucker took a moment to note most Surry County residents pay their taxes on time. The county foreclosing is among the last things anyone wants to do, and the commissioners have reached out to owners in the past and spoken to them about past due balances, he said. However, foreclosure is a part of life Tucker admitted, and while it may pain members of the board to make these decisions it is their duty to do so, “We do it as the very last option, I assure you.”

– The board passed a resolution designating Surry County a Green Light for Veterans County. Now through Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is “a time to salute and honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform transitioning from Active Service. In observance of Operation Green Light residents are encouraged in patriotic tradition to recognize the importance of honoring all those who made immeasurable sacrifices to preserve freedom by displaying a green light in a window of their home or place of business.”

The resolution notes the financial impact veterans have on the country but also the perilous nature of the transition from military to civilian life that leads to a higher incidence of suicide in the first year after discharge. The county supports and respects its veterans and participating in Operation Green Light will be an ongoing affirmation of that support.



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