Ambulance district looks at including Eureka Springs

Thursday, January 19, 2012

By Kathryn Lucariello

Carroll County News

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Past problems with keeping Eureka Springs and Western District medical calls and supplies separate may be resolved in the near future if Eureka Springs city residents can be brought into the Western Carroll County Ambulance District (WCCAD).

During WCCAD's bimonthly meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Chuck Olson said he had met with Eureka Springs Mayor Morris Pate to make the final ambulance service contract payment and to discuss the contract renewal.

WCCAD's five-year contract with Eureka Springs is up June 30 and must be rebid.

The WCCAD service district was originally set up to exclude Eureka Springs because city residents pay their own taxes for ambulance service.

"The quorum court could change the district to add Eureka Springs to WCCAD," Olson said. "Attorney Matt Bishop said a new ordinance could be written and approved by the quorum court without a public vote."

He also said adding Eureka Springs would add two commissioners to the present three, making it a body of five voting members, but that would have to be done by changing state law.

Commissioner Joe McClung, Jr. asked why it would be advantageous to have Eureka join WCCAD.

"There was a lot of controversy about buying the Lifepack, and we can't buy equipment for Eureka Springs, even though rural Eureka Springs is part of WCCAD," Olson said. "This would eliminate all the controversy. The tax issue is obviously the hurdle."

Some way would have to be found to eliminate that portion of taxes to city property owners to avoid double taxation.

In a follow-up letter to the mayor after his visit, Olson wrote he believes the current levy of 2 mills might be lowered to 1.75 mills with the addition of Eureka Springs.

The commission also discussed changing some performance specifications in the new contract, one of which is response times.

By contract, the ambulance provider is to arrive on scene within 15 minutes of being dispatched. In the last year or so, response times have increasingly exceeded that, most due to distance.

In earlier discussions, Eureka Springs Fire Chief Rhys Williams noted county population in remote rural areas has increased. Some communities at the edge of the Western District, such as Oak Ridge Park and Starkey Marina, take about 25 minutes to reach.

Williams said he would be comfortable with 20 minutes.

"I'm not sure I'm in favor of changing it because the majority of the calls are within 15 minutes," McClung said. "Some are over, but I'd still like to see the justification of why they went over."

To work on preparing a bid package for the new contract, commissioners opted to return to monthly meetings for several months.

The commission looked at requiring those who take the Emergency Medical Responder course to sign a Letter of Agreement to respond to calls within their fire district for a period of one year if WCCAD is to pay for their course materials, which run about $100 per student.

The board approved a motion to have a formal audit of the 2011 books and to accept Windle & Associates' offer to perform it for between $300 and $350. Two other firms were solicited as well but did not return offers.

In other business, the board:

* Received annual reporting on locations of EMRs in the Western District, EMRs' response statistics, EMR equipment list and year-end financials. The county took in $261,951.93 in 2011 on the 2-mill ambulance tax. Out of that, $222,659.14 will be paid this year for ambulance service, and $39,292.79 will be available to equip EMRs.

* Heard the Eureka Springs performance report for November and December. Of the 95 total WCCAD calls, there were 68 in Holiday Island; nine in Grassy Knob; seven in Inspiration Point; five each on Ark. Hwy. 23 South and U.S. Hwy. 62 East; one on U.S. Hwy. 62 West and none on Ark. Hwy. 23 North. Nine calls took longer than 15 minutes to reach, all but one due to distance.

WCCAD will meet again Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. at Cornerstone Bank in Eureka Springs.

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