06/25/04 — Duplin County board considers contracting out EMS

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Duplin County board considers contracting out EMS

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 25, 2004 2:00 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Johnston Ambulance Service wants to provide emergency medical service to Duplin County.

The Duplin County commissioners heard a pitch from the company during a budget work session Thursday and planned to hear more during a meeting at 9 a.m. Monday in the County Administration Building on Seminary Street. They instructed County Manager Fred Eldridge to pursue the matter in more detail.

To implement full-time paid paramedic service in the coming year would cost about $2.2 million for six EMS sites, which would require a 3.5-cent tax increase. This increase would be required, Eldridge said, even if the county contracts out the service.

County officials were looking for an alternative to a tax increase when Jason Crowell of Johnston Ambulance Service approached Eldridge.

Crowell told the commissioners Thursday that his company could save the county $1.8 million by providing contracted paramedic level service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said his company would charge $402,000 a year for the service.

The proposal placed six staging areas for the service at Faison, Albertson, Beulaville, Kenansville, Chinquapin and Rose Hill.

Crowell said his company would not be able to begin providing contracted service until mid-August.

Eldridge recommended that the commissioners proceed with phasing in countywide EMS and make the necessary adjustments next year.

He said the county could lease ambulances to Johnston Ambulance Service in a public-private partnership.

But he said he wants to get quotes from other countries as a professional courtesy, although it is not required by law.

The savings from contracting out the service versus forming its own system like Wayne County would be about $1.3 million at the most, he said. Some of the costs he had included in the budget for EMS would not go away if the contracted service started immediately.

The county would still have an additional 3.5 cents on the tax rate worth of expenses whether the county or a company answered the EMS calls. "If they do it, we won't need another 3.5 cents next year," said Eldridge. "This would enable us to save money, but not this year."

The county would still have payroll costs for the first four months during the transition from paid emergency workers to the company providing contracted service. Somebody would still have to coordinate the volunteers. Housing of the full-time EMS workers would continue to be an issue.

So far, citizens have rejected the idea of a tax increase, in two public hearings held on the proposed budget.

The new budget year starts July 1, which doesn't give commissioners much time to decide what to do.

In response to citizen outcry, the commissioners directed Eldridge to go department by department, excluding school funding, and cut 2 percent from the budget.

Eldridge said he had aimed to cut $767,000 but was able to cut only $661,000.

"Regardless of which approach we take, we'll still have to find the money," he said. "We still have to start 24-7 (EMS) coverage for Wallace and Faison at basic level until a decision is made to go in another direction." Both of those volunteer squads have said they plan to disband because they no longer have enough members.

"It's not my goal in life to raise taxes," he said. "... We took from line items that didn't even cover their costs this year. If we do nothing, we will be in the hole deeper than we are now."