The Crossett city council agreed last week to put the new fire and ambulance committee on hold and focus on ambulance billing and hiring more firemen.
The council has been debating the fire and ambulance budget in recent months, and the contention about the issue resulted in a delay in the approval of the entire city’s 2018 budget. That stalemate ended when Councilman C.T. Foster recommended that the council pass the budget and form a committee to look at future ways to save money.
Mayor Scott McCormick announced the committee members at the council’s regular meeting in February, but after a special meeting to discuss the issue last week, Councilwoman Lynn Rodgers — who requested the special meeting — said emotions and tension were high and she felt the council may have made the decision too hastily without a clear goal.
“What I don’t want to happen is a committee to be overwhelmed and say we need to hire a consultant,” Rodgers said.
Mayor Scott McCormick echoed Rodgers.
“Let’s just hold this off right now, not disband the committee, but just put them on hold until we figure out exactly what it is we want them to do,” he said.
After discussion, the council decided it would have a working meeting at the fire station so that all of the council members could see first hand what the fire and ambulance department do on a daily basis and on emergency calls.
Fire chief Bo Higgonbotham said he plans to set up a “smoke out” session to demonstrate what it’s like to go in to a house or building that is on fire.
Rodgers also suggested that the council give the new third party ambulance billing an opportunity to see what type of income it could bring in before allowing the fire and ambulance committee to start reviewing the fire station budget.
The fire station currently brings in approximately $800,000 a year in revenue through ambulance billing and search and rescue contracts.
Higgonbotham said the fire station revenue was $779,749.47 in 2017. The majority of the funds collected were from ambulance billing.
Higgonbotham said Georgia Pacific and the Alrez Resign both rely on the fire department to be their search and rescue team and have contracts with the City of Crossett. The contracts require the department to have men on standby at the fire house when the companies are doing certain types of maintenance or other procedures that OSHA requires that a search and rescue team be on standby.
The fire chief said how often the companies call varies month to month , but when they do, he has to make sure the fire house is properly staffed.
Higgonbotham also told the council that he was actively advertising for positions and recruiting. The council agreed to wait to see what hiring more people would do as well.