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Last Updated: Oct 12th, 2017 - 09:27:49


Justices vote to give temporary funding toward ambulance issue
By VERSHAL HOGAN
Oct 12, 2017, 09:26

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A split Ashley County Quorum Court voted 5-4 Tuesday to give $5,000 a month toward a temporary service agreement that will fund an ambulance service in the delta area of the county.

The vote came without the recommendation or endorsement of the Court’s budget committee, which ended its Friday meeting last week with a decision not to take a recommendation to the broader Court about providing temporary partial funding for the agreement.

The Court should not act until seeing what other stakeholder institutions in the county are doing, the committee members decided — and that includes seeing the commitment from the other parties signed and in writing.

But they also acknowledged that the decision can’t be delayed forever.

“We are going to have to provide a solution,” Justice Corliss McCain said Friday. “I don’t think it will go away.”

When the wider Court voted Monday, the split was along the lines of the budget committee, with committee members Rhonda Pippen, Ricky Sims, Jeff Langley and Ronnie Wheeler voting against the measure. McCain was not in attendance at the Tuesday meeting because of a family matter.

When casting her vote against the proposal — which was motioned by Justice Carlton Lawrence and seconded by Justice Hiram Taylor — Pippen voiced again a desire to see in writing what the other stakeholders in the matter could commit.

The decision to provide the money comes after Ashley County Medical Center issued an ultimatum on the matter.

While the hospital has underwritten FAST Ambulance Service’s profit losses since June in order to keep the Hamburg-based ambulance company open, when agreeing to extend the initial service agreement beyond its expiration date of Oct. 1, the hospital board said it expected the county government and other municipal entities to provide funding of at least $5,000 monthly starting in November. When the hospital board made the decision, an ACMC spokesperson said it was crucial that a long-term solution be reached by January.

The City of Hamburg has already agreed to contribute $2,500 a month toward the project. Representatives of the other delta-area cities that will primarily affected by FAST’s potential closure — Parkdale, Portland and Wilmot — have said they plan to do what they can to meet the request, but their respective governments have not met and officially approved any funding yet.

McCain said Friday she believes Montrose is “out of the picture” in the funding discussion, and County Judge Him Hudson said Fountain Hill representatives have said they will “try to throw something in.”

During the Friday discussion, the justices asked FAST co-owners Dusty and Steven Smith about the losses the hospital has covered for the company since June, which average to approximately $10,000 monthly.

They also expressed concern that the company had lost approximately $25,000 in 2016, but that the hospital had covered approximately $40,000 in losses since entering the service contract with the company.

Steven Smith said the apparent greater losses had been because FAST had gotten behind in paying payroll taxes, while Dusty Smith also told the Court that part of the greater expenses were tied to covering debts FAST had originally planned to pay by selling assets when they planned to close their doors.

The coming months shouldn’t reflect those losses since those matters have been addressed, Steven Smith said.

Dusty Smith also said that the company has lost some of its transport volume by not going out of area out of deference to the service agreement.

“We were contracted here, so we were taking care of here first,” he said.

--For the complete story, see the print edition.