City to charge more for county ambulance runs

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2008

Vicksburg will add higher gas prices to fees Warren County pays the city treasury for ambulance service outside the city limits, Mayor Laurence Leyens said Thursday.

“It’s a reflection of fuel costs,” Leyens said. For all purposes, the city is spending about $1 million more per year for gasoline and diesel. Calculation of the amount is not complete, he said.

Contracts on most shared services between the two local governments expire Sept. 30. District 5 Supervisor Richard George, board president, said renewal of all agreements is expected, but no direct response has come from the city.

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A subsidized public ambulance service is the oldest among shared services, dating to 1967. The emergency response vehicles are based at Vicksburg Fire Department stations. In addition to emergencies, they perform patient transfers. Overall, the volume of calls has been falling, even though a $186,900 bill paid by the county in August showed 623 responses to non-city addresses from April 1 to June 30, up from 579 during the previous quarter.

Quarterly figures leading up to the current agreement had averaged about 400 non-city responses.

The decrease in calls has lasted three years. Through Wednesday, units were sent to locations countywide 6,656 times in fiscal 2008. Annual runs have exceeded 7,000 in recent years.

Although patients or their public or private insurance carriers are billed, ambulance services have always been subsidized by city and county general funds, frequently a source of contention.

However, since the city and county moved away from billing based on specific services rendered and agreed on a flat, $300 fee for non-city responses, timelier billing and collections have made talks less contentious. Despite the clearer fee, no advance estimate was made on city budget information as to how much revenue was expected from the county for the service.

Budgets adopted Sept. 2 showed total city spending on the service projected more than $190,000 less than last year and county coffers stretched more than $79,000 more to cover actual costs.

A more detailed accounting of where emergency vehicles and fire trucks are called and how often has come about in the past five years, Vicksburg Fire Chief Keith Rogers said, brought about by participation in state and federal emergency information databases.

However, the department has tightened the belt on staffing and pay, Rogers said.

Rising fuel costs and recent cuts in overtime pay for fire personnel who had racked up hours with ambulance crews has reduced the number of ambulances at the ready from five to four. An idled unit remains based out of Central Fire Station, Rogers said, but would be reactivated if overall emergency responses trend upward.

Cost to city taxpayers has been a chief concern in numerous disputes in recent years over continuing the service and averting its privatization, which is standard in most places. The $300 fee was calculated because it closely reflected the city’s loss per run.

“We’ve taken a harder stance on collections, but we have no reduction in manpower,” Rogers said.

He also attributed the decrease in calls, at least in part, to more routine patient transfers being done privately. “Nursing homes are making their own runs now,” Rogers said, taking patients to medical appointments. Also, River Region Medical Center has two ambulances to transfer patients between the hospital’s main campus and its offices on North Frontage Road.

Other interlocal agreements address tax appraisal and collection and voter registration.

EMS countywide run totals









*through Sept. 17. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. 

Vicksburg spending on ambulances

  2008-09 2007-08 Personnel $191,264 $194,295 Supplies $74,625 $244,763 Services $262,306 $194,567 Debt Service $83,200 $115,590 Capital $29,290 $4,339