Monroe County residents have filed a class-action lawsuit over an ambulance fee on residential property owners imposed in 2017.

County commissioners approved the controversial fee of $100 a year per property to pay for ambulance service, which state law requires the county to provide.

Protests surfaced after the fee was imposed, with only about 60 percent collections last year and community meetings to voice concerns.

The lawsuit on behalf of Monroe County resident Gary Campbell, “individually, and … all others similarly situated,” seeks “injunctive relief, declaratory judgment and monetary recovery for the damages…”

The lawsuit claims the Monroe County commission “improperly” handled the fees and did not “deposit its collected fees into a special ambulance fund as required by statute … Instead, the commission deposited the collected fees into its general fund.”

“Since August of 2017, the commission has operated and continues to operate its ordinance in direct contravention of W.Va. Code,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also says the commission is required by the state to appoint a board of five to 15 people for “management and control of any authority, its operations, business and affairs…”

However, the lawsuit added, prior to enacting the ordinance “the commission did not create or otherwise assemble a board” to “operate the affairs of the ambulance service authority… Instead the commission itself directly managed, controlled, and operated all related affairs including, but not limited to, its collected fees pursuant to the enacted ordinance … the commission continues to directly manage, control, and operate numerous affairs directly related to the ordinance … The foregoing is in direct contravention of the Emergency Ambulance Service Act of 1975 …”

The lawsuit said residential property owners in Monroe County “have been and continue to be wrongfully subjected to the imposition of the fee as presently imposed by the commission.”

After many residents did not pay the $100 fee, the county hired a firm, Feuchtenberger and Barringer Legal Corp. of Princeton to collect unpaid fees.

The lawsuit alleges that since the fees are improperly imposed, residents will “continue the undue hardship and financial burden of defending their rights against” the law firm.

County Commission President Bill Miller said the county has hired Beckley attorney Victor Flanagan for representation in the suit.

“Our attorney told us not to make any comments on it,” Miller said.

Although he can’t talk about the specifics of the lawsuit, Miller said he is looking forward to complete the legal process.

“We will see how it works out,” he said. “It will take all the guesswork out of it. We will go through the court and I think we’ll be all right.”

The ambulance service issue surfaced in early 2017 when the Union Rescue Squad was going out of business over financial problems and sold out to Greenbrier Ambulance Service. o

 

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