IRON COUNTY — Over 40 ambulance workers, Iron County officials and community members packed into the Iron County Commission chambers Monday to voice concerns regarding the possible privatization of the ambulance service.
On Thursday, Iron County Commissioner David Miller sent out a letter to all employees of the Iron County Ambulance division. In the letter, Miller wrote that the Board of Commissioners was currently evaluating alternative options to ambulance services after the Iron County Ambulance running in significant deficits for several years. These options include possibly handing the ambulance service over to a privatized company.
While the item was not on the Commission’s meeting agenda, Ambulance workers and community members were able to voice their opinion during the public comments section of the meeting. Brandon Franta, representing the Iron County Sheriff’s Department Division of EMS, was first to the podium where he read a letter addressing concerns EMS workers had regarding the possible change.
“We believe that the transfer of the ambulance service to a private company could have the potential to cause economic harm to Iron County,” Franta said. “The ambulance service employs anywhere from 70-90 people at a time in Iron County, making this one of the largest divisions in said county.”
The EMS division currently in place gives the highest quality of care in the state, Franta said. Workers have experience stretching the resources they are given and allow them to go further; such as the recent purchasing of a refurbished ambulance over a newer model, allowing the division to purchase two new rescue vehicles as well.
Franta also said he had concerns over the commissioners not including Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson or the Cedar City Council in the negotiation given that a private company would be making money within the Cedar City Area. Franta also raised questions about whether the members of the public would have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.
“Why aren’t all the city councils in the county involved in this decision?” Franta said. “It affects all of the citizens within the county.”
Miller, in response to the concerns addressed in the letter, said he does not think any current employees would be in danger of being pushed away if the ambulance system became privatized.
“If there is a change in ownership, there is going to be a need for the professional service that many of those individuals provide,” Miller said. “I can’t say exactly how that will shape out, but I can say that (the Commission) is committed to keeping service in Iron County viable and those that provide that service … part of the team.”
It is important for people to understand that privatization is just one of the options available for Iron County, Miller said, and all of the available options will be given thought and consideration. He also said that Mayor Wilson and city councils in the county will be informed of the options being considered, but that in the end, Iron County will have the final say.
“This is not the service of Cedar City or any of the other communities, this is the Iron County Ambulance,” Miller said. “… Now we will have those conversations, but we did not have any interest in having a conversation with them prior to taking this step.”
Not all in attendance viewed the possible option as a negative change. Christene Lowder, chief deputy of the Iron County Auditor’s Office, said the current EMS division had been going over budget for years and that continuing to keep things how they are would not be in the County’s best interest.
“I think the ambulance department and everyone else … need to realize that it is a business,” Lowder said. “You are in it to make money to operate your department.”
While it may not be a popular thought to have, Lowder said, the current ambulance division wastes money. Lowder used the recently purchased refurbished ambulance as an example of how funds have been managed poorly citing that, according to the division’s budget, they are currently $160,000 in the hole.
“The ambulance functions as the landfill does; they’re an enterprise fund,” Lowder said. “The money that they generate pays the bills, pays the salaries, pays for new engines and pays for new equipment.”
Ty March, operations sergeant of the Iron County Sheriff Emergency Services, said the current EMS division has been doing their jobs efficiently and are constantly working hard to keep it that way. This hard work ethic is one reason, March said, the system should not become privatized.
“It would be a disaster to go with privatization,” March said. “I have worked in the private (division) and private is for profit. They cut corners.”
No decision has yet been made regarding a possible shift into the private sector, Miller said. This will be an ongoing discussion where members of the community who have any questions or concerns will be given a chance to speak with officials on the matter.
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