The Ashley County Quorum Court voted Tuesday to walk back a move made last month to seek a new sales tax to fund the expansion of the Crossett Fire Department’s ambulance service to cover the entire county.
Instead, the justices said Tuesday they wanted to first meet with members of the Crossett City Council and place all possibilities for ambulance service back on the table.
The move continues discussion as the clock ticks down to the Oct. 1 deadline when the service agreement FAST Ambulance has with Ashley County Medical Center runs out.
Justice Carlton Lawrence, who made the initial motion at a special meeting in June to seek the tax and partner with Crossett, offered the motion to rescind the previous vote, saying that he didn’t see a successful sales tax vote happening at this time.
He also said he wanted to make it clear that the motion he put forward wasn’t to make anyone feel as if a proposal was being made in such a way as to force them to accept it. Some Crossett council members had previously expressed concerns they might be “railroaded” into the agreement.
“We knew at that time that to move forward, Crossett would have to buy in,” Lawrence said. “I have talked to enough folks that I believe in the present state of opinions in the county that there is very little chance of having a tax election be any good right now.”
Lawrence said he was open to having all ideas back on the table, including a county-run service, a subsidized private ambulance service and even still the proposal of having Crossett run things.
Crossett Fire Chief Bo Higginbotham said Crossett city officials were open to the idea of moving forward with the proposal, but their decision to seek a feasibility study — for which they met with representatives from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Friday — was part of doing due diligence.
“That did sort of slow things down, but I would think that if the situation was reversed, y’all would want to do the study to make sure the money would be there,” he said. “They just wanted somebody from the outside who would say,
‘This is where we think the money will be.’”
During the Crossett board meeting Friday, Higginbotham discussed with the UALR representatives the number of runs Crossett ambulance makes, patient mix, potential costs for an ambulance expansion and what having a private service expand into the territory Crossett now covers might do to the Crossett ambulance service — a reality he said would significantly hurt the fire department’s operation.
The discussion also included the past history of ambulances services in the
delta part of the county, which Mayor Scott McCormick characterized as going into business, “and then the next thing you know, they are moving out.”