WCCAD board examining role, responsibilities

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

EUREKA SPRINGS -- The Western Carroll County Ambulance District (WCCAD) met Jan. 25 to try to understand "the scope of the authority of the commissioners," said board member Steve Hudson, who called the special meeting.

"My question is, what governs the scope of our authority?" he asked.

He had copies of Ordinance 92-13 and its amendment, 95-27.

"Is that all?" he asked.

Referencing a lawsuit brought against the district for improper use of tax dollars, he said if there was no ruling on the lawsuit, "in my mind it should have no bearing on any decisions we make. So I come back to what are the documents that allow us to make decisions?"

The suit was originally filed in 1998 by plaintiffs C. Rodney Johnson, Leonard R. Fowler and Marvin D. Hofmann. In 2004, it was granted a "voluntary nonsuit without prejudice" by the court, giving the plaintiffs' attorney one year to refile. In January 2005, he did so, with a new plaintiff, Ron Pederson.

Pederson died a year later.

The specific decision Hudson was referring to was a recent request by the Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) Alliance to purchase a $14,000 LUCAS Chest Compression machine and house it on a Eureka Springs ambulance.

According to the ambulance service contract, WCCAD cannot purchase equipment for the service provider to use, and the service provider cannot look to WCCAD for reimbursement of any equipment it may purchase or use in providing its contracted service in the Western District.

"To my mind, the contract with Eureka Springs is fairly specific as to what we can do," said board member Chuck Olson.

"The contract says Eureka Springs will not look to reimbursement," Hudson said. "In my mind it does not prohibit us from providing equipment."

The board has had two opinions from attorney Matt Bishop stating WCCAD cannot provide equipment.

"If it was carried by a Eureka rural vehicle, there wouldn't be a problem," Olson said. "But they wanted it to be put on a Eureka Springs vehicle. We got away with it for the extrication equipment, and even that was close."

Olson also noted that last year WCCAD spent more than it took in buying a LUCAS that is housed in a rural response district. WCCAD uses 15 percent of its two-mill tax revenue to equip and train Western District volunteer responders. The other 85 percent is paid to Eureka Springs, the service provider. This year, those payments will total $218,000, based on last year's tax collections.

"The point I want to make is that there is nothing stopping us from renegotiating the contract," Hudson said.

Olson pointed out the contact is up next year, "so I'm not sure we want to renegotiate it this close."

Hudson asked whether WCCAD's responsibility is "to provide the very best service we can or just to provide service?"

"By contract, we can't demand the provider has the latest, best equipment," Olson replied. "It's no question Eureka is doing a great job. It's just we have to be stewards of taxpayer money."

Eureka Springs rural responder Tom Freehling asked why WCCAD is equipping fire trucks with WCCAD radios.

He said he has constituents complaining that the Eureka Springs rural department is getting "the least of anything" in terms of equipment "because we're associated with Eureka Springs."

But the City of Eureka Springs fire chief is also the fire chief for the Eureka rural district, and the city department responds to fires in the rural area.

Only medical emergency response is supposed to be funded by WCCAD tax dollars, not fire department operations. Separation of the two in people's minds is difficult because EMRs volunteer out of the rural fire departments.

Olson said, based on the EMR Alliance list of equipment, four fire trucks have WCCAD radios on them.

Board members took no action on anything discussed but will continue to research the issue.

The board set a new meeting date for its next regular meeting. That will be March 8 at 4 p.m. at the Cornerstone Bank in Eureka Springs.

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