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KCC accepts KershawHealth EMS offer

Posted: February 12, 2015 5:04 p.m.
Updated: February 13, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

District 2 Councilman Sammie Tucker casts his vote against accepting an offer from KershawHealth for the county to take over EMS service, with KershawHealth providing $2.636 million to sustain the service until the county can begin collecting taxes from the hospital in 2017. Tucker said his objection was to a stipulation that the county-owned property where the hospital sits be given to KershawHealth.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Kershaw County will become Kershaw County’s responsibility July 1 following Kershaw County Council’s 5-1 vote Tuesday to accept a $2.363 million payment from KershawHealth. Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. voted against the proposal. Councilman Willie Mickle was absent.

As part of its negotiations with Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn., KershawHealth -- which has provided ambulance services for years -- asked the county to take over EMS operations. The $36 million deal, set to close March 31, will have Capella operate KershawHealth in collaboration with MUSC Health, the patient care arm of the Medical University of South Carolina.

In a Jan. 16 letter to KershawHealth Attorney David Summer, County Attorney Ken DuBose said the county would need $3 million to operate EMS until Capella began making tax payments or paid a fee in lieu of taxes in January 2017. Through DuBose, the county asked KershawHealth to make the $3 million payment at the closing of the Capella deal.

In a Jan. 22 response, Summer said KershawHealth could not make the payment, as debts and pension obligation had to be made, and a trust account set up in the event the KershawHealth Board of Trustees ever needed to take back the hospital from Capella.

As a compromise, KershawHealth made the $2.636 million proposal, but only in exchange for the county giving up any interest in the hospital real or personal property. For its $36 million offer, Capella will lease KershawHealth’s real estate for 40 years while purchasing all its furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Council spent less than seven minutes in executive session to discuss the proposal before returning to accept the offer. Tucker explained his reason for voting no before council voted.

“The county owns the property where the hospital sits on Roberts Street for a reason, and that’s to give the citizens of Kershaw County a voice in what goes on through their elected officials,” Tucker said. “I applaud the work and efforts that have been done. I’m glad this has come to a conclusion, but I do not solely support transferring the land.”

District 4 Councilman Jimmy Jones thanked the KershawHealth Board of Trustees, which is appointed by council, for their role in the negotiations for the sale.

“I want to acknowledge our hospital board members who are here … they deserve all the credit. If this county had gotten EMS without this bridge money, it would have been on the backs of the taxpayers because we would have had to raise taxes,” Jones said. “We just didn’t have $2.6 million. This board of trustees doesn’t have a whole lot of money, either. They sacrificed for the taxpayers. They made this happen.”

County Administrator Vic Carpenter noted EMS personnel in attendance and welcomed them to the county payroll as of July 1. He said plans are already underway to make the transition smooth.

“I want to assure council and welcome those EMS employees that are in the audience. We’ve been working for many weeks on making them a part of the Kershaw County family. We will be starting immediately with the process to insure that they are welcomed into this county and that, as employees, they are comfortable coming forward,” Carpenters said. “We are well on the way with that and look forward to the transition July 1 when we’ll continue the record of service and strive to always provide better service to the extent of our abilities.”

In other business, council held a public hearing and unanimously passed third and final reading of an ordinance on the county’s annual road maintenance fee, a part of vehicle owners’ tax bill. Carpenter said an ordinance is already in place, but the new one sets better enforceable penalties for nonpayment of the fee.

“This will allow us to take the road maintenance fee that is currently in existence and charge penalties, as appropriate, for nonpayment of the fee. It does not raise the user fee itself. The amount of the fee will be set by the council at budget time,” Carpenter said.

Council also unanimously approved first reading of an ordinance to remove the county’s name from the deed of INVISTA’s property in Lugoff. Carpenter said the county has been listed as an owner of the former DuPont plant because of an outdated state law requirement as a condition for a “fee-in-lieu-of-taxes” agreement.

“Obviously, we have nothing to do with running the facility, owning the facility, managing the facility or being responsible for anything that happens at the facility,” Carpenter said. “What this (ordinance) will attempt to do is start a discussion where we can remove ourselves from the title of the property. Nobody in this community believes Kershaw County owns that facility, DuPont and, now, INVISTA themselves included.”

Carpenter said the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) intends to list the county on the permits issued for the INVISTA facility, which uses chemicals in its manufacturing processes. He said taking the county off the ownership papers would be a wise precaution so the county would not be liable for any mishaps at the plant.

Council also unanimously approved a request from Sheriff Jim Matthews to transfer approximately $3,500 within his department’s budget to adjust compensation for some personnel. The funds are already in the sheriff’s office budget, but council must approve the transfer.

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