Ambulance with signs implores voters to ratify tax

An ambulance adorned with signs imploring voters to ratify a one-cent sales tax to fund ambulance service stood at the corner of Main Street and Arkansas 8 Tuesday. At the end of the day, 205 votes had been cast in favor of the tax, while 21 were against.

Voters in Hamburg — at least those who showed up — overwhelmingly passed a one-cent sales tax designated to fund ambulance service in the county.

At the close of the polls Tuesday, 205 ballots had been cast for the measure and 21 against. Hamburg has 1,554 registered voters, which means approximately 14 percent of those eligible to vote participated in the election.

Mayor Dane Wiendorf expressed relief that the referendum passed.

“First, I’m going to thank God and then we’ll go from there,” Weindorf said.

On the ballot, voters had a choice of answering that they were for or against the proposal as worded:

“Adoption of a one percent local sales and use tax within the City of Hamburg, Arkansas, the net collections of which after deduction of the administrative charges of the State of Arkansas and required rebates, to be used by the City for one or more of the following: (a) fund the operating expenses of an ambulance service to be operated by or on behalf of the City; (b) fund the City’s contribution to the ambulance services operations of an emergency medical healthcare facilities board under the Public Facilities Board Act; (c) fund the City’s contribution to provision of emergency medical services to its residents and the residents of Ashley County, surrounding counties, and municipalities within those counties, but only if the governing bodies of such counties and municipalities request, authorize and contract with the City for the provision of such services under applicable Arkansas law; (d) fund the acquisition of equipment and capital improvements for the operation of an ambulance services operated by or on behalf of the City, and (e) fund the City’s obligation under contracts for other entities to provide ambulance services to or for the benefit of residents of the City and surrounding areas.”

Now that the proposal has been ratified, the future ambulance service will be discussed at the city council’s regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 24.

Weindorf said he foresees creating a committee. Weindorf said he’s already selected three council members and plans to select two residents to create a committee that can review the ambulance options in-depth and report to the council.

“Now we’ve got the money, we just have to decide what to do with it,” Weindorf said.

Weindorf said at this point they don’t know if the city will create their own service or if they will contract with a private company or another city.

“Crossett could bid on it and we would pay them,” Weindorf said.

Weindorf said the city will explore all options to find the best way to provide the City of Hamburg with ambulance service.

“I hope to cover all of the areas in the county that Crossett doesn’t cover,” Weindorf said.

The tax will go into effect Jan. 1 and the city is expected to see the new monthly income in March.

The City of Hamburg will continue to subsidize FAST ambulance service until the new service is up and running. The city has a $10,000 a month agreement with FAST they entered earlier this year.

The new tax was the result of a more than year-long discussion about what to do to guarantee ambulance service after FAST became financially insolvent. From June 2017 through May 2018, Ashley County Medical Center maintained a service agreement with the company that allowed the hospital to help the company break even — and thus stay open — every month until a longer term solution could be found.

Hamburg took up the subsidy after the hospital ended the agreement. The city had previously subsidized FAST $5,000 a month.

At the Ashley County Quorum Court’s meeting Tuesday, the justices voted to reaffirm a previous commitment to put $5,000 a month toward the ambulance service — which covers Ashley County’s delta area in addition to Hamburg — until March or until the county reaches a total contribution of $40,000.

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