Piedmont to consider hiring out insurance related cost recovery

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Holds first reading on budget

By Stan Welch

The Piedmont Public Service Commission gave first reading approval to the upcoming budget Monday night. As usual, the budget is a balanced one and includes no increase in millage. As is also usually the case, the margins between revenues and expenditures are razor thin.

The portion of the budget devoted to fire operations is based on .061 mills. Greenville County property generates $1,048,058 in revenue, while Anderson County property generates $166,263, for total revenues of $1,214,321.

With salaries and associated expenses taking the lion’s share of those revenues, the fire operations budget came in with a surplus of $560.The budget, as proposed, restores staffing levels to previous levels by filling one vacant slot and hiring two new firefighters to fill slots lost in prior budgets.

Commission Chairman Ed Poore publicly thanked the department’s employees for agreeing to a restructuring of the insurance plan, in order to save money. Assistant administrator Craig Lawless pointed out that the restructuring had made possible the filling of one of the three positions.

The lighting operations budget is funded by a .006 millage, with Anderson County generating $16,354 in revenues, while Greenville County produces $9657, for a total of $26,011. Projected expenditures are $25,865, for a surplus of $146.More than $22,000 of that amount is paid to Duke Energy in the form of power bills. Commissioner Poore pointed out that Commissioner Terry Yates has been conducting an audit since he joined the commission earlier this year to determine exactly which street lights are the responsibility of the public service district; and which belong to private or commercial customers. “We want to provide safe well lighted areas but we don’t want to pay the bill for lights that don’t belong to us,” said Poore.

Recreational needs are met by a millage of .002, with Greenville providing $34,363, while Anderson County provides only $5451. Additional revenues are generated by the rental of the ball fields and the community building, bringing the total projected revenues to $52,314. Projected expenses are $52,270, for a surplus of $44.

The Commission also heard from Dennis Pitts, a representative of a company called innovaPad. Pitts made a presentation on a way to reduce the budget constraints faced by the fire department. His company is promoting the increased use of cost recovery methods by fire departments, solely in the area of motor vehicle accidents, and the department’s responses to them.

Simply put, the company files claims against the insurance companies of the at fault driver in the event of an accident. Traffic accidents are the only area involved.

Pitts explained that state law allows for such claims, but that they have to be filed and pursued.

“Your responders will have to write detailed narratives, including every bit of equipment, and the various materials they use,” Pitts said. “They need to take good pictures of the scene to document their activities. For example, if you have to use a can of foam to fight a vehicle fire, that can costs about $450. Right now, your department is eating all of that expense, while the insurance company quietly lets you. They sure aren’t going to volunteer to pay it.”

Pitts explained that his company recovers at least a portion of the costs in about sixty per cent of the claims it files. The company then charges 25% of the amount recovered to the department.

Still, as Pitts claimed, and Chief Tracy Wallace agreed, the department is currently leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table, that they could be using to defray their operating costs.

He pointed out that more than seventy departments across the state use the service, including four in Anderson county and even more in Greenville county.

The Commission took no action, but Chairman Poore asked fire committee chairman Al McAbee to explore the question further, and try to have a report by the May meeting. That timetable would allow the question to be added to the public hearing required for the budget before its final adoption.