Ambulance, 911 services will continue in 2002

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2001

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Warren County Board of Supervisors raise their hands in agreement Tuesday about ambulance service for Vicksburg and Warren County.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[12/12/01]Ambulance and 911 services will continue as combined operations of Vicksburg and Warren County in 2002 after agreements worked out by city and county officials Tuesday are signed and sealed.

The Mayor and Aldermen met with the Warren County Board of Supervisors, and both boards gave verbal OKs to county proposals on how to share funding. The agreements still have to be put in writing and approved by the local governing boards in official business sessions.

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“We want to get this taken care of today,” said South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman. “But we want to have thoughtful conversation over the next year.”

Interlocal agreements have funded a countywide ambulance service, based at the Vicksburg Fire Department, since 1967. A combined dispatch center for all emergency services was created after voters agreed to fund E911 technology through their phone bills in 1989.

About 17 city employees and citizens attended the meeting and applauded as each agreement was verbally approved by the two governing boards. An earlier meeting, taped and shown repeatedly on the city’s cable access channel, had been long with both sides showing exasperation.

The deal says city funds will pay 70 percent of the cost of 911 dispatchers and county funds will pay 30 percent. The city had proposed a split based on population, 53.2 percent to the city and 46.8 percent county.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, whose point was that city residents already provide 60 percent of county taxes, said he would agree to the county’s proposal this year, but wanted to discuss changing the funding method before next fiscal year starts Oct. 1, 2002.

“I haven’t seen any rationale as to why the city should be subsidizing 911,” Leyens said. “If we don’t have closure by March 31 for the next fiscal year, then I will vote on our board to notify you of our intent to withdraw from 911.”

Leyens said the city can operate its own center for the same subsidy.

The 911 center budget is recommended by a seven-member board that includes county and city representatives. The budget is also approved by the board of supervisors.

“I think we need to have a 911 meeting to discuss all of this and that’s where it should start,” said District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale who serves on the 911 committee.

The other members of that committee are Leyens, the chief of police, fire chief, director of emergency management, sheriff and volunteer fire coordinator.

Separately, city ambulance service will continue to operate outside municipal limits under a new funding formula proposed by the county. Leyens had said that service would stop after Dec. 31 if an agreement is not worked out.

Under terms of the proposal by supervisors, Warren County will pay $210 per ambulance run and $388 per rescue service call with a $310,000 cap on combined costs. Last fiscal year, the county had paid a flat fee of $250,000, but city officials were asking for an amount based on either usage or population.

If actual ambulance and rescue service costs are more or less than the cap amount, the difference will be applied to next year’s amount.

One point made by District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon is that the county has no control over the level of service provided by the city while the city has had representation on the 911 commission.

“In the past, the county has never had a say in ambulance and fire service,” Selmon said. “Will we now?”

Leyens said the city would be willing to share the costs with the county to have a third-party evaluation of the ambulance service annually. He said that would also help the ambulance service be more efficient.

Both boards are scheduled to have the regular meetings again Monday. Deals could be voted on then.

Vicksburg and Warren County also share services such as voter registration and tax assessment and collection. Fire protection and law enforcement are largely separate, although the jurisdiction of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department is countywide.