Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TOP STORY > >MEMs cuts ambulance service in Cabot

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Cuts in Medicare have made it difficult for ambulance services to pay for themselves, so in Cabot, where MEMS has the exclusive franchise, the city began paying a subsidy this year that was estimated at $50,000 but will actually be about $62,000.

But that price will likely be cut in half in 2009, because MEMS has suggested taking away at night one of the two ambulances that have been assigned to Cabot.

Since MEMS is owned by Little Rock and cities are not allowed to give away services, Cabot and other areas where MEMS would have lost money were required to pay a subsidy.

Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County are not charged a subsidy because they generate enough income without it.
Cabot’s subsidy was contingent on Lonoke also using the service and sharing one of the ambulances that is stationed in Cabot.

But Lonoke could not pay the $87,000 subsidy MEMS requested and went with another service in April.

Since then, MEMS has lost $68,000 in Cabot, Jon Swanson, MEMS executive director, told the city council Monday night during the regular, monthly meeting.

The solution, Swanson said, was either take away one of the ambulances at night or more than double the price of the subsidy to $112,454. Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, anticipating that the council would not oppose the reduction in the number of ambulances in the city, included the smaller subsidy of $28,000 in the budget he presented to the council last month.

Swanson assured the council that taking away the ambulance during the evening hours would likely not have a negative impact on the service offered because most of the calls in Cabot come in during the daytime hours.

During the day, MEMS responds to an average of one call every three hours compared to one call every 10 hours at night, he said.

Furthermore, Swanson said, a backup ambulance stationed just outside the city in Pulaski County would move into Cabot as soon as the ambulance stationed there was called out.

But if a second call came in before the backup ambulance was in place, there could be a delay in answering a second call of up to two minutes, he said.

The mayor pointed out that when Lonoke also used MEMS, the second ambulance assigned to Cabot was frequently out of the area anyway because it went to Lonoke.

The council took no action on lowering the subsidy by reducing the number of ambulances in the city, but passing the budget as drafted will also be a “yes vote” for those changes.

In other business, the council annexed by ordinance a 20-acre area at Linda Lane and Campground Road that was completely surrounded by the city.

The so-called island is one of six that could eventually be taken in by a vote of the city council even if the people who live there object.

There are two more islands located on the other side of Campground on Diederich Lane as well as two houses in front of Silver Streak Subdivision, one house on First Street and the city sewer ponds.

So far, only the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission has said annexation is completely acceptable.

Although he did not speak during the Monday meeting, Jimmy Woosley, whose family’s acreage was included in the annexation, has voiced opposition many times in the past. Neither did any member of the council speak except to vote “yes” for the annexation.

But members have said recently that annexation was necessary to impose the city’s building regulations on the owner of a mini-storage that is going up on 10 of the 20 acres that were annexed.

The annexation was the first in recent history if not the first ever to be annexed over the objections of the property owners.

By state law, cities may annex an area that is surrounded on all sides by that city without the permission of the people in that area.

Cities may also take territory through a petition of the property owners who want to be annexed and through elections where people in the area to be annexed and city residents get to vote on the outcome.

In Cabot, most annexations have been through petitions by landowners with plans to build subdivisions who want those subdivisions located inside city limits for the utilities, and fire and police protection.