The Ashley County Quorum Court’s justices contended Tuesday that they couldn’t approve an ambulance proposal from the City of Hamburg without more information.
The justices also said they could not vote to modify an ultimatum about dispatching services the county provides for Hamburg that they voted on last month.
The justices’ discussion about the issues came at the Quorum’s regular monthly meeting after the Quorum Court and the city of Hamburg have each presented proposed agreements to the other, one regarding ambulance service and one regarding dispatch services.
The county currently provides dispatch services for Hamburg, and for the last several months the two governments have disagreed regarding the amount owed for the services. The Quorum’s budget committee has said that the past due balance is approximately $98,000.
The committee previously said the issue would be tabled until the Quorum’s attorney had time to research their options. The committee has presented a contract to cover services from Jan. 1, 2019 forward, however, to the entire Quorum.
Following the Quorum’s vote, the contract was presented to Hamburg Mayor Dane Weindorf on Monday with a June 1 deadline.
County Judge Jim Hudson reported at Tuesday’s meeting that the mayor had asked for an extension until July 1 because the Hamburg City Council doesn’t meet until May 28.
Members of the quorum court said that because the item was not on the agenda that they couldn’t vote for changes and that Hamburg would need to call a special meeting in order to make a decision by the deadline.
Meanwhile, the Hamburg City Council voted at their April meeting to request that the county pay $3,000 per month to help fund the ambulance service provided outside the city limits by ProMed Ambulance.
Weindorf said Pro-Med gave the city two different bid totals prior to being awarded the contract. One bid was approximately $20,000 per month to offer ambulance service to the City of Hamburg only; the second bid for approximately $23,000 per month included serving areas outside of the city limits.
Since the start of the contract, Hamburg has been paying the full contract amount including the additional $3,000 for the county service.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Hudson presented the proposed contract for ambulance service that the Hamburg council had already approved.
Justice Ronnie Wheeler pointed out the two governments have conflicting issues.
“This discussion of the ambulance thing, there is a problem there,” Wheeler said. “He can’t come to an agreement with ProMed if he is still getting services from the sheriff’s office.”
Sheriff Tommy Sturgeon confirmed that the Ashley County Sheriff’s Department is currently dispatching ambulance service.
“We dispatch for all of it; 911 is free, but there is a world a difference between 911 and dispatch,” Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon said the ambulance service originally planned to dispatch for themselves, but it was his understanding they were having cellular service problems that were preventing them from doing so.
“What they are trying to do is roll it over from their landline to their cell phone, and it’s not working so we are having to dispatch anytime they leave the building,” Sturgeon said.
Justice Hiram Taylor said the ambulance issue was never brought up in prior discussions with Hamburg and that taxpayers all over the county are paying the sales tax in Hamburg that funds the ambulance service.
“Tax payers right now are paying all over the county, so why are we being sent a bill for $3,000,” Taylor said.
Hudson said that he had not discussed the proposal with Hamburg and that he was only presenting it to the court as it was presented to him.
“They feel like we owe them $3,000 for what they cover more than Hamburg, they cover the county and that’s up to the Quorum Court to decide, yea or nay on the $3,000,” Hudson said.
Wheeler said that the county has saved Hamburg $1.8 million over the last 10 years by providing a discounted dispatch service.
“And that’s a conservative number,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said that he had confirmed with the sheriff that Hamburg was in fact saving money by using the county’s dispatch service.
“I think we’ve done the city of Hamburg a tremendous service, we will continue to do that even if we do this agreement, we are still doing Hamburg a tremendous service,” Wheeler said.
In addition, Wheeler said that he was concerned from the beginning that this might happen if Hamburg adopted an ambulance service.
“I was repeatedly told, judge, by you and others that we weren’t going to pay Hamburg,” he said. “You kept telling me repeatedly on numerous occasions that it was Hamburg’s.”
Hudson said that Hamburg was the entity that passed the one-cent sales tax and that Wilmot had also passed a one-cent sales tax, and that the county had made no agreements to fund an ambulance service.
“Because if we are going to get in the ambulance service, we need to get in or get out,” Hudson said. “If we are going to assist, we need to know why.”
Several of the justices voiced that there was not enough information provided for a decision to be made one way or the other and that the data provided didn’t seem to add up.
Justice Jeff Langley said that if half of ProMed’s runs were in the county as they had previously stated that it would be reasonable to assume they would lose money by not covering the county.
“If he loses half of his runs outside, he’s going to lose a whole lot more than $3,000 a month,” Langley said.
Other justices said that the numbers seemed high compared to numbers they had received when the county sought bids for county-wide ambulance services. Justice Carlton Lawrence said that other bids had reflected that it would cost less to serve the county than the city alone.
“I think the figures don’t reflect what’s actually being done,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence also pointed out that the county had voted to cover the ambulance service only asking for approximately $20,000 from Hamburg, but Hamburg wanted to manage its own.
“Now we are at a place where Hamburg is doing it and asking us to help do it, and binding us with a service to the county in the most expensive format that you can buy,” Lawrence said. “This is going to cost the taxpayers at least half a million dollars that they wouldn’t have to pay if we had found an amicable solution and that’s fact.”
Though Lawrence disagreed with the total cost, he said looking at it from a county government standpoint, $3,000 was much cheaper than what they were discussing paying before Hamburg passed the sales tax. Lawrence said, however, the figures and information provided didn’t add up and the court shouldn’t make a decision without more information.
“These figures simply don’t reflect reality and that means we are going to have some other discussions and some other information before I vote,” Lawrence said.
Wheeler said he believed the reason it cost more was because the bid accepted was based on a higher cost ambulance than what the county was originally looking at. Hamburg’s bids sought two Advanced Life Support ambulances instead of the one the county had requested in its solicitations.
“They wanted higher cost vehicles than what we were looking at, and Dane didn’t like that idea at all so they went to a higher cost vehicle,” Wheeler said.
Langley said that he didn’t think there was anyway that the Court could enter into that type of agreement with Hamburg without doing the same for Crossett. The Crossett Fire Department provides ambulance services to some areas outside the Crossett city limits.
“When you subsidize one, you have to subsidize the other,” Langley said.
The justices ultimately decided to schedule a special meeting for 2:30 p.m. May 24 and to ask Weindorf to be present to answer questions.
In other news:
-Ashley County is now a Purple Heart County. Jimmy Lewis with the Military Department of Arkansas presented a proclamation and plaque to Hudson on Tuesday.
“This isn’t for the county this is for the men and women who have been injured overseas,” Hudson said.
-Wheeler reported from meetings he attended in Little Rock that all Quorum Court meetings, by law, have to be recorded after Aug. 1. Wheeler said regular and committee meetings had to be recorded and the county clerk must keep recordings for one year.
-The court approved that Sturgeon be allowed to use $5,000 from money seized from arrests toward a previously approved vehicle purchase.