CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s attorney general has told Hardy County that its ambulance authority may not file lawsuits to collect unpaid ambulance service fees.
“The state code is clear,” wrote Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, “that only the county commission is granted the authority to impose and collect broadly applicable fees for emergency ambulance service.”
Hardy’s ambulance service was suing in magistrate court to collect unpaid fees, but Morrisey said only the county can take action to collect fees “levied across a broad population.”
Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See had requested the opinion.
“The office was pleased to assist Hardy County in evaluating the legality of an issue with great practical importance,” Morrisey said.
As the chief legal officer for the state, the attorney general is the “general lawyer for the state” and has the power to issue opinions on questions of law. The attorney general also “may consult with and advise the several prosecuting attorneys in matters relating to the official duties of their office.”
So far this year, Morrisey’s office has written 10 opinion letters, 2 of them relating to questions related to emergency ambulance service in Hardy County.
The most recent opinion cited state code, which states county commissions — and not ambulance authorities — are responsible for passing ordinances that enact special emergency ambulance fees and then collecting that fee.
It also says the Legislature chose to separate the special emergency ambulance fees from an itemized list of powers possessed by emergency ambulance authorities.
The letter also says county commissions have a constitutional duty to manage a county’s fiscal affairs, and thus collect any special fees.
“For all of these reasons, we determine that a county commission — not an emergency ambulance authority — has the statutory power to collect the special emergency ambulance fees permitted by West Virginia code,” the opinion reads. “It follows that an emergency ambulance authority lacks the statutory power to bring suit in magistrate court to collect those fees.”
The opinion noted that the attorney general had not been asked to decide whether a county commission could delegate its statutory power to an emergency ambulance authority.