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Commission discusses county ambulance service

By Christa Jennings

Senior Staff Writer

 

During its evening meeting last Tuesday, the County Commission had much discussion regarding the previously discussed county-wide ambulance service to be stationed in Rockford.

All commissioners were present for the meeting, and Rep. Ed Oliver and Goodwater Fire Chief Elmore Unbehant were also in attendance for discussion regarding the ambulance service. The commission had previously taken action regarding the matter, with the county being awarded a grant for the ambulance.

No action was taken on the item last week, as it was on the agenda as a discussion item only. However, it led to much discussion among the parties and clarification being made to dispel some rumors.

Commissioner Ronnie Joiner requested updates on where the commission stands with the ambulance service. He explained that he had been hearing rumors that they were planning on putting the ambulance on the northeast side of the county, adding that if that was true he wanted to know why.

“The whole thing to start with was to have an ambulance in Rockford,” Joiner said. “That’s what the whole thing was when we first started.”

Unbehant reviewed some previous information with the commission and explained that after the meeting when the county approved matching funds for the grant to purchase a rescue truck and an ambulance, that Kellyton Fire and Rescue agreed to do the legwork and submit the grant for the rescue truck. He further mentioned that at that time he told the commission that Goodwater was not in need of an ambulance.

Unbehant explained that he was later contacted by John Blue, CEO of East Alabama EMS, and that Blue asked him if he would do the specifications for the ambulance and accept responsibility for it on behalf of the county. Unbehant told Blue that he would do that.

Unbehant said he proceeded to do the legwork and got it drawn up, got quotes, did a request for proposals, submitted the grant, and had the ambulance ordered, adding that it should be in the county soon.

“It will be available whenever we can get to Phase II and find a way to provide paramedics to run it here in Rockford,” he said. “It’s as simple as that, because without people, once the ambulance gets here we can park it right out here, but if you don’t have any people to run it it’s just going to sit there.”

He added that East Alabama EMS wants to work with licensed services operating in Coosa County. He said that there are no other licensed services in the county other than Kellyton and Goodwater.

Rep. Oliver spoke up and said that he had received a follow-up regarding the matter just that morning.

“They’re willing to do a private partnership with the county,” Oliver said. “They’re willing to let you get a private service to come in and run the ambulance. They’re willing to do a volunteer and private – whatever it takes to get it up and going.”

He further added, “It is much more convenient for all of us involved to use their license just right now because of where we are, but it’s not an absolute necessity.”

Oliver said that the priority is to decide how they’re going to get the ambulance service “up and running” and how to support it for the first few months while the county figures out how to sustain it. He mentioned there is the possibility of another grant and that he would keep the commission updated on that.

“What y’all have got to do is just everybody figure out how you want to move forward,” Oliver said during the discussion.

Unbehant mentioned that he submitted a plan with exact figures to the commission via email. He said that it “is a lot,” although they might be able to trim it down some with adjustments.

Unbehant went on to say, “Commissioner Joiner, I’ll tell you something about rumors. If you want to know something from me, call me. I’ll tell you. I have no indulgence in doing anything except the best for the people of this county, from wherever I am. I’ve been in talks with Mayor [Scott] White. We believe we can work out a place to place an ambulance here in Rockford. There are available spots. The town has available spots. Mayor White has committed to work with me if we can find the funding to pay the people. Paying for the people or finding the people is a necessary step.”

The commission, Oliver and Unbehant further discussed the need for figuring out how to fund the ambulance service and various ideas for how the county may be able to achieve that and have a funding source in place.

“An interim operational plan is sort of where we are right now – something that will fill the gap until we can figure out how to get this funding,” Oliver told the commission.

In ongoing discussion, Unbehant thanked Oliver for his work on the project, saying that it’s “huge for Coosa County.”

“It wouldn’t be here in this county without you,” he told Oliver.

Unbehant went on to mention Oliver’s comment about the possibility of the county doing “something in the private world” or having a private service operate the ambulance.

“The only thing I can say is, we’re willing to do it right now through a plan,” Unbehant said. “We’re doing it today for free. So that means we’re going to do it. We’re going to make sure it’s done. I can’t say anything about a private service other than some of your volunteers, once the private service is here, they might not care anymore. It just may happen. …Today we’re answering these calls. We’re going to answer them tonight if they happen right here.”

Commissioner Joiner spoke up and stated that they cannot answer all of the calls.

“The whole premise of this is to have somebody to back y’all up, a full-time ambulance here in Rockford,” he said.

“That’s where you guys have got to find a funding source,” Unbehant stated. “That’s on y’all. Once the funding source is available, we can make the ambulance service happen. That’s not a problem.”

Joiner mentioned the ambulance being an asset as a backup for them, stating that if there is a full-time staff in Rockford with the ambulance then when they cannot make it the Rockford ambulance can respond to the call.

Unbehant mentioned locations throughout the county and call volume, also suggesting that the commission may want to look at the areas with the highest call volumes. He added that the ambulance will be valuable to the county no matter where it is.

“Wherever you have a full-time truck it’s going to be valuable to the county,” he said. “It’s going to be valuable to Goodwater. It’s going to be valuable to Kellyton even though it’s right here.”

In ongoing discussion, Joiner reiterated that he wants to have someone available to respond to calls when they cannot. Unbehant responded saying that there is no geographical data that says the ambulance has to be in Rockford.

“But there is one person that did,” Oliver stated. “Actually the request was made for Rockford originally, and unless we have a really good reason for moving it, that would be an issue. When the grant was released it was with the intent that it came here [to Rockford]. The intent from the start was for it to be here.”

Unbehant said that they can bring the ambulance to Rockford as soon as it arrives.

“That doesn’t mean anything; there’s no people to run it,” he added.

Oliver said that the county needs an interim plan for funding until a reliable and steady funding source is available.

Commissioner Unzell Kelley asked Oliver if he had something from the state regarding the ambulance being housed in Rockford or if it was just an oral agreement with Gov. Kay Ivey.

“I went and asked the governor,” Oliver said. “If you make an argument against that, it will be ugly.”

In further discussion, Unbehant said that when the ambulance arrives that he is signing for it because he signed to have it built. Kelley said that he appreciated it, adding that they wouldn’t be at this point if not for Unbehant.

Unbehant said that as soon as funding can be provided then they can put the ambulance in Rockford.

Oliver said that he will be looking for funds to help the county move forward with the ambulance service in Rockford, but said that truthfully it is back in the commission’s court to decide what it wants to do.

Commission Chair Randall Dunham thanked Oliver and the others for what they have done so far regarding the ambulance service and the grant.

“We know what we need to do,” Dunham said to close the lengthy discussion. “We’ve got to come up with funding somehow, so let’s move on.”

In other business, the commission also discussed Sunday alcohol sales in the county. The towns of Kellyton and Goodwater previously voted on and approved Sunday alcohol sales, but the Town of Rockford and the county as a whole does not currently have Sunday sales.

Tim Allen with Allen Oil Company addressed the commission at its October 12 meeting asking that the county consider Sunday alcohol sales, adding how it would help his business and the county.

During last week’s meeting, Commissioner Joiner said that he thinks the county should support it, adding that it would bring in more revenue for the county. He mentioned that some municipalities already have Sunday sales, as do neighboring counties, so those wishing to buy alcoholic beverages on Sundays currently just take their business elsewhere, with those places receiving the additional revenue.

During brief discussion, county attorney John K. Johnson explained that it takes local legislation to allow it. He further said the county would need to vote to start the process for Sunday alcohol sales within the county.

Joiner said that he thinks they should get started on the process and made a motion to that affect. The motion to begin the process for local legislation to allow Sunday alcohol sales in the county passed with a vote of 4-1, with Dunham abstaining from voting.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved following the State of Alabama 2022 holiday schedule; allocating American Recovery Plan funds for HVAC units for the jail, a camera system for courthouse security and body and car cameras for deputies; and distributing American Recovery Plan funds equitably among all five county districts, including requests from the Sheriff’s Office and probate office to use those funds, if eligible.

The action taken included that if the Sheriff’s Office and probate office requests are not eligible for ARP funds, then those projects would be done with capital improvement funds. The ARP funds are restricted, so the county is checking for allowable spending to determine what projects can utilize those funds and what is not eligible for those funds.

During that discussion, it was stated that the commission currently has $1 million in the bank from the first allocation of ARP funds to be used by 2024. The county also has approximately $700,000 in the capital improvement fund that can be used if ARP funds do not cover the aforementioned department requests.

During last week’s meeting the commission also heard from Devlynne Barnes with concerns regarding the condition of County Road 19, where she lives. She said there are 20 potholes in a 2-mile strip and that it is difficult to meet cars because of the overgrowth on the roadsides and the potholes.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Coosa County Commission will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, November 9.

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