HEBER SPRINGS — Ambulances were again the topic at the monthly Quorum Court meeting held Thursday night, Sept. 10. Justices heard about issues regarding ambulance service in the county and volunteers for regional ambulance services.
The court also addressed support for Issue 1, scheduled for the November ballot along with its routine business.
The ambulance issue was presented to the court by City of Quitman Mayor Cyndi Kerr. Kerr explained to the court that Quitman and the surrounding area was having an issue with ambulance service from two points. The first being that developing a stable base of volunteers was difficult, the second being that ambulance service in the county when volunteer services were not available came down to Survival Flight, the franchise holder with the City of Heber Springs, which had no contracted arrangement with the county.
The justices were reminded several times that while Kerr was speaking as the mayor of Quitman, the problem, including the problem for the Quitman volunteer ambulance service, extended out into the county, beyond Quitman city limits. The problem with low numbers of volunteers impacted ambulance availability was a county-wide problem, she said.
“Please take my plea seriously,” Kerr said. “It’s not a City of Quitman issue, it’s a county and city issue,” she said.
Kerr demonstrated the problem by with the story of the stroke victim (in a pre- Survival Flight time) in her city and an hour wait for an ambulance, the problem being no volunteers available to staff the local ambulance which would otherwise transport the patient.
“[The days of] great volunteer numbers is a thing of the past,” Kerr said, explaining how people are willing to volunteer, but the demands of work and family often make them unavailable to staff an ambulance.
Survival Flight had previously signed a mutual aid agreement with the county which allowed it to serve areas outside its Heber Springs -granted franchise. The problem was, Survival Flight Regional Clinical Manager Shaine Keesler said, was that under the current contract arrangements, Survival Flight had equipment and personnel on hand to serve its City of Heber Springs contract.
While it has not happened, a possibility exists that a Survival Flight ambulance would not be available for dispatch for a county call if all ambulances are currently serving a need in the contracted, Heber Springs, service area.
If Survival Flight added an Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance to meet county needs, it would cost at least $300,000 a year in additional salary, Keesler said.
Cleburne County Judge Jerry Holmes said the county was not asking the city to fund an ambulance for the county. At the same time he acknowledged it was getting harder to find volunteers for ambulance services.
“We treasure our volunteers, but they are getting hard to find,” Holmes said.
Kerr was asked to speak as she was the first to bring the matter to his attention, Holmes said.
A justice pointed out that it was the court’s responsibility to plan for worst-case circumstance, where, possibly, no volunteers were available to staff local ambulance services.
The discussion concluded with the Judge stating the most likely route to take would be a for-fee service to provide an ambulance service county-wide. This “...may require a special election,” he said.
A resolution in support of Issue 1 on the November ballot brought some discussion from the justices, and the gallery.
The issue is to extend the one-half percent sales and use tax currently in place for state highway funding to continue past its June 30, 2023 expiration date.
The discussion came into two areas, with the first being not only anti-tax, but also, as was pointed out from the gallery, that Issue 1 as proposed had no expiration date, allowing the one-half percent to continue in perpetuity. Justice Malone expressed additional concern that the vote on the resolution was the court taking a political stance.
The counter to this was, of course, state highway maintenance, with Holmes pointing out that the removal of the tax in 2023 would have a significant impact on the county’s general fund of approximately $730,000.
The resolution passed in a 6-4 vote.
In other Quorum Court matters:
The court officially declared a vacancy in its District 9 position, as former Justice Phil Grace had left the area and was no longer available to serve. Justice Jay Cupt served his first Quorum Court meeting, taking a recently-vacated seat.
Cleburne County Treasurer Pam Gray told the court that tax revenues, expected to drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had actually gone up slightly over the past few months.
Justices approved funding for a new phone system for the county health department.
The broadband grant discussed at the previous month’s meeting had been approved. Additional broadband infrastructure was being discussed with First Electric, Holmes told the court.