Though discussion got heated on both sides of the bench, nothing much changed at yesterday's County Council meeting.
The competition between ambulance providers for a spot in Clay County's budget has been a topic for discussion both within and outside of county government recently. Athens Ambulance, Clay County's provider for 24 years, came out on top in a bid battle with Trans-Care after much discussion from both commissioners and spectators.
Trans-Care's coup came in the form of staffing. If picked up by Clay County, Operations Manager Faril Ward promised the board that his company would staff at least one paramedic (as opposed to other types of EMTs, which the county currently has) for the county.
"There is a scarcity of paramedics in the state," Ward said. "It's quicker and easier to get an intermediate here now and train them. Intermediate is good, but paramedic is top of the pinnacle. Don't get me wrong, though, an intermediate can do a lot."
In Ward's several-page-long presentation, he outlined the prices his company charged and other information. The rates were comparable to those charged by Athens, though the authority given to a paramedic is more than that of lower-level EMTs. Additionally, he said, a paramedic can "intercept" an ambulance, which means he can board the vehicle and use everything at his law-permitted disposal to care for the patient.
"For it to be an 'ambulance,' technically, the vehicle must have one EMT and one driver," he said.
He then discussed the proposed contract further, fielding questions from the crowd and the commissioners about the length of the proposal and the wording of certain parts.
"I don't see anything on the horizon that would change our prices," he said, referring to a clause in the proposal that would allow the company to reopen negotiations with the board. "But that's why we put the part about the negotiations in the proposal."
The talk quickly grew heated when Andrews noticed a shift in the audience and in his fellow commissioners towards Athens.
"It's blowing me away that we're even having a discussion about this," Andrews said, referring to discussion of signing with Athens. "The answer is so obvious!"
After more borderline argument, Andrews put forth a motion to continue talks with Trans-Care instead of Athens. Neither President David Parr and Commissioner Buddy Knox would second it, however, leaving it to die on the table. Discussion then turned to Athens owner Dennis Rose.
"He puts some BS proposal together and all he's going to do is a study," Andrews said, referring to Rose's reluctance to become contractually obligated to hire or train an EMT. "He doesn't want to reinvest the money Clay County has given to him."
Due to time problems, Rose himself then took the floor to show his proposal to the board. His contract renewal asked to revamp user fees to assist with expenses. When asked about his reluctance to agree to hiring a paramedic, Rose said that "with two weeks to get a proposal together and six weeks to look at paramedic contracts, it's certainly difficult to agree to that."
He did say, however, that the proposal said that he would work with the board on conducting a survey on paramedics.
"There's a paramedic manpower shortage in Indiana," he said. "To find one this quickly becomes very difficult."
Andrews then asked him if he would go back and commit to hiring a paramedic in front of the board.
"My contract proposal does not say that," he replied.
"I'm just disappointed that we've met for six hours and all we get is a study," Andrews rebutted, to which Rose said, "I think a study is a plan."
After hanging up a chart with information on both companies on the wall, Andrews once again explained his side of the story.
"Athens today is offering lower level certification at a higher price to our county and our residents," he said. "Do you want to upgrade your service to a higher level or not?
"I've asked Dennis to come with a plan to upgrade his service and he didn't."
In the end, the council voted 2-1 to review and negotiate Athens' proposal after a movement by Buddy Knox, a move which visibly displeased Andrews.
"I don't see anyone celebrating," Rose said, speaking to the small group that had come to support him.
"That's because we made the wrong decision," Andrews replied.
After the vote, President Parr said that several factors came into his decision to vote for Athens.
"I felt like both companies gave good proposals. I would have liked a third party with a paramedic so we'd have something to compare to. Dennis suggested that he may bring a paramedic into his company and has served our county well. He works well with fire departments and the families here, although I will say that we can't stay stagnant. To give Dennis a fair shake, I'm going to give him a chance to show that he can do that for our county."
Other items from the meeting included:
- Open bids for highway materials, highway trucks, and site demolition for the new Clay County jail. The board decided to take all highway material and vehicle quotes under consideration, while rejecting the two bids given for demolition in hopes that more businesses would represent themselves.
- An update from architectural firm Shelkle Shultz. The company, which is handling the plans for the new jail, came to the meeting to show a slight change they made to the initial plans. By removing one holding cell and making a few small trims a few other places, the company added nearly 1,000 square feet to the area the jail would take. Parr advised a representative of the company to work more closely with the board, saying that "in the end, the final decision comes to us."
- A five-year renewal of Clay County's franchise contract with Charter Communications, the county's main cable television provider.
- Another visit from Brian Vandenburgh of Wabash Valley Locksmith. After several talks with the board, a motion was passed to buy several card-scan locks and three "master keys" and locks for the courthouse. Materials for installation will cost around $ 7,500.
The next County Council meeting will take place on Mon., Jan. 5, at 9 a.m. in the courthouse. The public is invited.