Outsourcing to prevent tax hike OK with new commissioner

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By Damon Lawrence

On election night last August, Nick Forrester said he believed the voters wanted Roane County government to tighten its belt.

Five months later the first-term county commissioner said he believes that’s still the case.

Forrester said that’s why he won’t support a property tax increase to solve the problems facing the county’s ambulance department.

“I think there’s ways we can go about that, other than raising property taxes,” he said.

Roane County Executive Ron Woody said he’s looking at outsourcing the service in case the county’s ambulance department folds.

“We must maintain this service in some form or fashion,” Woody said. “Whether we’re doing it or whether we’re outsourcing it, we must maintain the service.”

Ultimately the decision to outsource or increase the property tax rate is up to the county commission.

Many property owners are still fuming about last year’s reappraisal process.

The property tax rate dropped, but many people still ended up with more expensive tax bills because of higher assessments.

The property owners will have to pay even more in the future if the commission decides to raise the property tax rate.

Forrester said he favors outsourcing.

“If that’s what we have to do to keep the property taxes from being increased, I think that’s what we need to do ultimately,” he said.  

Forrester said he also believes additional oversight might help some of the financial problems the ambulance department is experiencing.  

Ambulance director Gloria Wright told the budget committee she recently learned that under-billing was going on.

“I received information last Wednesday (Dec. 29) that our billing department was under-billing on 40 percent of the runs,” she said.

Billing used to be separate from the operational side of the ambulance department.

Woody put Wright in charge of the entire operation in October.

“I went into a department that had no supervision for 16 years,” Wright said. “None.”

The county began exploring the possibility of outsourcing the ambulance department billing last year.

“I received information last week on Wednesday (Dec. 29) showing me that we absolutely need to either bid it out or redo the employees that we have there,” Wright said.  

Woody said everything — from outsourcing billing to the entire operation — needs to be considered.    

“This is a big decision no matter what we do, but the decision needs to be made between probably now and April,” he said.

Outsourcing just the billing may not be the answer.

“There’s not going to be a whole lot of assurance that the revenue is going to be enhanced by contracting out billing,” Woody said.