Storm brewing on the horizon
Covering city and county board meetings is generally a boring task, but there’s always little nuggets that can be gleaned that give some insight on how individual aldermen and supervisors are thinking on certain issues that will shape and direct the future of our little piece of the map.
These folks are spending millions of dollars – a goodly portion provided from the pockets of you, our readers – and the public needs to stay informed about what is being spent and where.
Of course much of the spending is routine bills and salaries and such, but there is a good bit of discretionary spending going on at the same time. Reporters learn to keep an eye out for these things, and pass them on to the readers.
What the board members consider as priorities is clear when you see where they are willing to spend money and how much.
It’s akin to separating the wheat from the chaff.
And, along the way, reporters learn to pick up on vibes (good and bad) from the board members about a variety of issues and departments that make up Panola County government. I noticed this week at the Supervisor’s meeting that there seem to be a few “burrs under saddles” when the topic of money for the ambulance service came up.
I did a little checking, and I don’t blame them.
Monday’s meeting at the Sardis Courthouse was humming right along, Supervisors hearing a few reports, spending a few thousand dollars here and few thousand more there, when Daniel Cole (Emergency Operations director) made a routine request for a new radio on behalf of Lifeguard, the ambulance service.
My ears perked up when the request for $1,960 brought an almost collective grumble from the Board. It was John Thomas (District 3) who was the most vocal. “As much as we are paying them, why can’t buy their own radio?” he asked.
Cole, who was just making the request for Lifeguard and not suggesting the Board buy the radio, later told me the County had helped purchased the initial set of handheld radios when the company was retained by the county last year.
In all, its going to cost taxpayers a little less than a quarter-million dollars during the fiscal year to keep an ambulance service here, so the money for radios is really not that much. But, the reluctance to buy just one more shows the Supervisors are about fed-up with toting the water by themselves.
Cole pointed out that the radio purchase, along with a rent agreement for the housing of an ambulance and EMTs in county-owned property (the old National Guard Armory in Sardis) was worked out when the contract was signed last June.
Lifeguard will eventually pay back all the money the Supervisors have been out on set-up and renovations and upgrades for living quarters taxpayers are providing.
Turns out, Panola County is paying a lot of money for ambulance service and getting very little help from the City of Batesville, although almost half the ambulance calls and runs are in the city limits.
Cole told the Supervisors the call log for February shows 435 ambulance runs were made by Lifeguard, and 215 of those were in Batesville. No wonder the Supervisors got irritable when a rather-routine request for emergency equipment was proposed.
When Cole told them of the 215 calls inside the city limits, some 85 of those were transfers – rides patients got from our local hospital to one in another county.
The Supervisors know that some of the trips are for the indigent and Lifeguard will never collect a dime for their efforts, but it’s also a fact that private insurance and Medicaid will reimburse Lifeguard for the bulk of those 435 calls.
It’s that $25,000-a-month subsidy the Supervisors are paying that’s causing the burrs.
No doubt we want to keep an ambulance service – with at least two trucks on duty all the time – in Panola County. And, we want to keep a good ambulance company here. Lord knows we’ve had bad ones and that’s when everyone suffers.
So far Lifeguard has performed its obligations in providing ambulances and EMTs pretty well. Not a lot of complaints on wait times, but there are issues to iron out in that area as I understand it.
Lifeguard agreed to wait time clauses when they signed their contract, and face stiff penalties (like a $1,000 a minute) if their average response time goes beyond a certain mark. So, it’s in their best interest to get to calls quickly and so far the times have been good on average.
Lifeguard also has a legitimate beef in that when the company proposed to take over the ambulance service the county (city included) was generating about 300 calls a month. Now, its almost 500 some months.
I see a storm brewing on an issue that is essential to our community’s well-being. We simply can’t be without good ambulances. Hopefully, some of the clear-thinking, level-headed members of the County and City boards, along with the hospital leaders will get together and work out a plan that keeps the ambulances rolling, and isn’t unduly burdensome on the budget of just one board.