CEDAR CITY — The Iron County Coordinating Council met at the Heritage Center in Cedar City Wednesday and voted to continue seeking out options other than privatization regarding the Iron County Ambulance Service.
The Iron County Coordinating Council previously met for discussion regarding the ambulance service, at which time some of the Iron County mayors expressed their concerns regarding the possible privatization of the ambulance service.
To begin the ambulance discussion, Iron County Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said that each of the three Iron County Commissioners would be presenting a different proposal to the council of what they felt were the most viable options for the future of the service. The council could then vote for the option they found best, but Brinkerhoff wanted the council to remember that their vote would not be binding on the commission, which would make the final decision.
“We know you’re concerned and we appreciated your interest in safeguarding the service …,” Brinkerhoff said.
Since the commission had requested updated proposals from each of the three bidders for the ambulance service contract, only Gold Cross Ambulance had submitted the information in full.
There was no response from Classic Lifeguard Air Medical, Brinkerhoff said, and the proposed Color Country Ambulance service submitted a letter stating that some of the information requested was not possible to deliver at that time.
Commissioners’ option 1
In the first proposal, Brinkerhoff said that the county could place the management and direction of the ambulance service under an ambulance board. This board, if implemented, would consist of members chosen to represent areas that receive ambulance service along with other members to represent the county and the medical and public safety divisions.
Board meetings would be open to the public, Brinkerhoff said. The chosen chairman of the board would also provide monthly updates on the ambulance service to the county. The board would also organize an annual budget and plan to pay an annual amount of $150,000 to the county in the form of a repayment fee.
“In the event that revenues do not cover the new operating cost, including the repayment, the cities will then reimburse the county an amount equal to the difference in the revenue and the cost for providing service to that particular area,” Brinkerhoff said. “The unincorporated areas would be funded through the EMS portion of the municipal service tax.”
Commissioners’ option 2
The second proposal, presented by Commissioner David Miller, is called the “Municipal Operated Ambulance Service Option,” he said. This option would allow the municipalities to take ownership of the ambulance service and have full discretion in determining how it would operate.
A variant to this option would include the creation of special service districts where municipalities could combine to cover geographic areas outside their respective boundaries and set their own criteria for operations, Miller said. Revenues generated from the service would be the primary income source with supplemental funding coming from the respective municipalities.
“The county would participate by representing the Iron County Municipal Service District that takes in the western county and the unincorporated areas,” Miller said.
It would be up to each municipality to configure, arrange and plan the services they want to pay for, Miller said.
In a response to Miller, Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson said it seemed possible that, under this option, an area could be left without an ambulance service if that municipality did not choose to go along with it.
Miller said that it would be the job of all the municipalities working together to ensure that did not happen.
Commissioners’ option 3
The third option was presented by Commissioner Alma Adams, proposing the ambulance service and its assets be sold to a private entity. The advantage of going with a private service would be that it would relieve suffocating debt that has been burdening the service for many years.
“This takes the burden off the taxpayers while allowing free enterprise to flourish in the private sector,” Adams said.
A large section of the debt comes from uncollected service charges, Adams said. Handing over the reins to a private entity would alleviate all these issues and still provide the county a reliable service.
Not all on the council felt that monetary problems should be the No. 1 concern. What is most important, Parowan Mayor Don Landes said, is that the well-being of the people should come first.
“It seems to me we’re more concerned with dollars and cents than the well-being and health of the population,” Landes said. “I am concerned about the finances … but to me that is secondary. We’re talking about life and death.”
Landes said he was not really fond of any of the three options presented in the meeting, and all the city mayors in attendance agreed with him. The majority of the mayors said they could not vote to commit their cities to taking on any costs such as those related to options one and two. All mayors in attendance also agreed that they were against the service being sold to a private entity.
Following presentation of the three new options, Paragonah Mayor Connie Robinson called upon Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower to share his opinion on what the decision should be. Gower said that he would be happy to continue to run the service, but that, to him, what matters most is that it not become privatized.
“I’m a team player and I’m here to do whatever is asked of me,” Gower said. “Emergency medical service is a part of public safety, and I am public safety.”
After Gower’s remarks, the council voted to recommend that the the ambulance service not be sold off to a private entity for the time being; giving time for each of the city mayors to inform their respective city councils about the commission’s options.
What the commissioners want to see from the cities is a commitment to at least the idea of taking on some costs in the future, Adams said. At this time, it isn’t known exactly what those costs would be, but each city needs to be open to that option.
“We really need to know if they are willing to take on that financial commitment,” Adams said, “before we decide anything.”
Even though a resolution to the issue could not be brought during the meeting, Robinson said, it is her hope that it is at least a step in the right direction.
“It’s not what we were hoping for and we’re not all happy about it,” Robinson said. “That’s all there really is to say.”
The County Commission will not make a final decision on whether or not to privatize the service until they hear back from each of the mayors, Miller said. However, since all options are still open, the commission will still be moving forward with the possibility of privatization.
The mayors will present each of their city councils’ responses at a special Iron County Coordinating Council meeting on Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. The meeting is to be held at the Cedar City Heritage Center located at 105 W. 100 North and is open to the public.
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