Leader Blues

Thursday, January 24, 2008

TOP STORY >> Lonoke officials meet on starting ambulance service

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Could one ambulance company effectively serve all of Lonoke County? Could that ambulance service be owned by the city and county governments and operated by a commission made up of members from every jurisdiction?

Those are two of the questions that will be asked by a committee made up of representatives appointed by Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman and the six mayors who have met frequently to talk about ways to work together for the benefit of all.
The ambulance service was among three items on the agenda for the Thursday morning mayors’ meeting held in Cabot and attended by Troutman, five mayors, volunteer and paid firefighters and representatives from two of the five ambulance services said to be doing business in Lonoke County, and at times possibly competing for clients.

Also on the agenda was continuing talk about a county animal shelter, which was discussed briefly, and insurance coverage for all employees of the county and the cities.

Except for the subsidy that MEMS requests to continue service in Cabot and Lonoke (the $50,000 that Cabot is paying and the $87,000 that Lonoke cannot pay) the group only hinted at the reasons for investigating the possibility of a county-wide service for all 60,000 or so residents.

Harold Ward, with the Mt. Springs Volunteer Fire Department, said there’s a debate over whose territory it is.

England’s ambulance service is based in Pine Bluff. Since Lonoke can’t pay the subsidy MEMS had asked for, it will likely go with a company from Brinkley.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke told the group that Allied, owned by former Cabot Fire Chief Gary Meadows and his wife Linda, is doing a good job in his area. Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain nodded in agreement.

“I don’t have a problem and I’m sorry some are,” Brooke said. “Maybe they should talk to Gary.”

Cabot Fire Chief Phil Robinson said his firefighters respond to all emergency calls because taking care of the health of area residents is of the utmost importance.

But they back off if another district already has it covered, he said.

Williams said he is completely satisfied with MEMS for Cabot but he wants all Lonoke County residents to have access to the same level of service.

“I wish the county owned its own ambulance service. I wish it was run by a board of our own people,” he said as he called for a motion to vote for a committee to study the feasibility of such an undertaking.

Williams wanted the mayors and county judge to name two members, preferably from the city councils and the quorum court.
Brooke chose Ward Fire Chief Randy Staley and then with everyone’s permission, Meadows.

“I don’t want to put the fox in the henhouse,” he said, adding that he did, however, want someone who understood the problems.

No recommendation is expected from the committee for several months, and no action is expected from the group of mayors and the county judge before 2009.

Discussion about county-wide animal control centered on the ordinances passed by many jurisdictions banning pit bulls that are being contested in federal court.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said the county had a vicious dog ordinance passed in the early 1990s that was worthless, so about six months ago, they gave the sheriff authority to kill dogs that are running loose and causing trouble and don’t have collars, licenses and up-to-date shots.

The group also authorized Lisa Burgess with Legacy Capital Group to talk to United Healthcare, which provides insurance for Cabot and Lonoke County, about individualized plans for the other cities, which are currently covered by the Municipal League.
Burgess told the group that United would not provide coverage to the county as a whole, but she was certain she would be able to get them affordable coverage that is better than what they have now.

She said they should trust that her good relationship with United would work in their favor.