City, county agree on ambulance service — for now

Published 11:54 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Warren County will pay the city of Vicksburg $300 per run for Vicksburg Fire Department ambulance service into the county under a one-year agreement between the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

County Administrator John Smith said an interlocal agreement for the one-year plan will be signed by city and county officials at a later date.

The cost per run is the same amount the county paid the city for ambulance service from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2015, when a prior emergency medical services agreement expired. The county was paying $145 per run under a temporary interlocal agreement approved for 2015.

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Smith said he will meet at a later date with City Attorney Nancy Thomas and City Accounting Director Doug Whittington to develop a long-term plan for the future ambulance service. He expected the meeting to occur in the latter part of this year after the city and county budgets have been approved.

“They (the city) want to do it rather quickly,” he said. “All we’re doing is coming up with a (funding) mechanism. They, the public officials, may not go with it.”

The one-year agreement came after about a 90-minute meeting between the supervisors and the board. Smith said Thomas, Whittington, Fire Chief Charles Atkins and deputy chiefs Kenneth Daniels and Craig Danczyk also attended.

He said the city initially suggested $350 per run with the supervisors offering a rate of $250 per run, leading to the $300 compromise.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said the compromise was a way for the city to help the supervisors keep ambulance service in the county. He said the county approached the city “at the last minute” to reach an agreement because the prior contract expired.

“Hopefully, we can negotiate a contract that is more reflective of the cost of the service,” Flaggs said. “We’ve been losing money providing that service to the county, and I think it is grossly unfair to the (city) taxpayers to provide a service at a loss when they city residents are paying two taxes — city and county taxes.”

He claimed the city is losing $1 million year providing services outside the city. After talking office, he said, he looked at the ambulance service contract with the city and “we were operating at a deficit, and I thought we needed to renegotiate it.”

Flaggs said providing services to the county could increase to $450 per run or more in the future.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he would prefer to see an agreement based on a flat rate of about $300 a month, “but I think we ought to have a ‘show and tell clause,’ where if the fee is below the cost of operation, you need to go back and look at it. We should probably be do that anyway every two years.”

“Ambulance service is expensive, and that’s the reason why most cities in the southeast region have gone to private services,” he said.

South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said the increased fee is aimed at reducing the deficit of operating the ambulance service outside the city limits.

“I guess at the end of the day, you want to maintain a good relationship with the county, so we continue to offer services, but on the other hand, we’re operating a service, and each service has to support itself,” he said. “All the numbers are there and all the numbers are correct about the deficit.

“We’re going to have to come up with a formula that both sides can live with.

“I’m not expecting to make a profit, but I do believe we should try and get as close to the black as possible.”

Board of Supervisors President Bill Lauderdale hopes the city and county will reach a long-term agreement on ambulance service “so can we can set our budgets without any problems for all of us, and that should be our goal, to have a fair assessment to all of us and use it as a tool to budgeting in the future.”

Lauderdale, who is not seeking re-election, hopes the supervisors will continue examining revenues and expenses involving ambulance service, “and work with the city to get realistic numbers the next year and in years to come. If it (a meeting) comes before I leave, that will be good. I hope it does.“I just want to thank the city board for responding to a meeting this quick. We’ve been in the middle our budget and we should have taken care of this earlier this year but we didn’t. But they helped us out on that and I really appreciate their willingness to work on that like they did.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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