County reviews Smiths Station concerns
Monday, 03 March 2014 09:36
By Fred Woods
The long-standing dispute (since at least 2010) between the City of Smiths Station, the Smiths Station Fire and Rescue and the East Alabama EMS, LLC, over ambulance service and response times for calls in Smiths Station has erupted once again and led to prolonged discussion at this week’s Lee County Commission meeting.
EMS, a wholly-owned, profit-seeking subsidiary of East Alabama Medical Center, operates a fleet of five ambulances, serving the governmental entities of Auburn, Opelika and Lee County. Each of the three jurisdictions pays EMS $289,476 annually for the ambulance service for an annual total of $868,428.
Although Smiths Station is incorporated, as the third most populous area of the county, Lee County government still provides most services (including ambulance service) to the town. On the other hand, service to Smiths Station by no means stops at the city limits.
After what SS Fire and Rescue said were numerous failed attempts to get a response to letters addressed to Terry Andrus, president of EAMC, the sole owner of EMS, Fire and Rescue notified Andrus of the Fire and Rescue Board of Directors’ decision to ask EMS to remove their ambulance from their Station 1 no later than Feb. 23, 2014.
At the same time the Smiths Station Fire and Rescue entered into a mutual aid agreement with Lifestar Response of Alabama Care Ambulance to provide an additional ambulance for Station 1. Care had operated an ambulance out of Station 5 for more than a year with results pleasing both Smiths Station city and fire officials. Smiths Station Mayor LaFaye Dellinger said, “We’ve had good service since Lifestar/Care has been there. I’m sorry that it has come to this point.”
Fire and Rescue officials had tried to get EMS to provide a second ambulance for the community as far back as 2011, but the EMS response has been that, based on the subsidy they receive, they cannot afford more than the five ambulances they currently have. Care, for their part, said (through their spokesman, Dell Gamble), if they received the subsidy they could afford to provide 10 to 12 ambulances countywide. Gamble also questioned why the provision of ambulance service had not been competitively bid.
Response time is a primary issue. Smiths Station officials say that if the EMS ambulance is not already in Smiths Station it takes at least 30 minutes for a second EMS ambulance to reach the emergency – too long for many emergencies.
No action was required by the commission, nor was any taken.
On a considerably more pleasant note, County Engineer Justin Hardee announced that Lee Road 146/Moore’s Mill Road, a portion of which had been closed on Feb.10 for an estimated two-week period to replace three storm drains, had been reopened after five days, thanks to the loan of a time-saving piece of equipment from Scott Bridge Company and a dedicated group of county employees who were willing to work all out and even until 8 p.m. on Valentine’s Day night to finish up the job.
Several highway department employees were at the commission meeting to receive thanks from an appreciative group of commissioners. These included John Swatts (foreman Unit 1), Michael Maddox (foreman Unit 2), Ricky Hacker (foreman Unit 4), Jeff Gleaton (Bridge/Patching crew) and Billy Yarbrough (Highway Superintendent). Assistant County Engineer Patrick Harvill was also there helping to finish the job. Harville said he is especially appreciative of the La-Z-Bee store for having roses available at that late hour for him to take to his fiancee.
All these men and the others they represented received a hearty round of applause from all present at the commission meeting.
Hardee also announced new work hours for the Highway Department. Beginning March 10, the first working day after Daylight Saving Time begins, the department will change to a 4-day, 10-hour work week. All Highway Department employees will work from 6 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Director of Environmental Services Chris Bozeman reported that, as of Feb. 2, the county was paying $80-$85 per stray animal to local veterinarians for the required seven-day holding period. The county is primarily dealing with five local vets, two of whom have limited space.
There has been a substantial increase in number of animals picked up in recent weeks, so Bozeman is projecting an annual figure of 1,500 animals, nearly double the 810 stray dogs and cats picked up last year.
As of Feb. 15, 28 percent of the strays were being adopted. An additional 10 percent were being reclaimed by owners within the seven-day period (owners pay nothing since the county has already paid the fee). Of the rest, 52 percent are being euthanized and 10 percent are in the system at any given time.
Commissioners asked Bozeman to draft an exploratory RFP to be sent to local vets asking their interest in receiving all local strays and their charges for this service.
Martha Leonard once more addressed the commission about her concerns over conditions at the Lee County Detention Center, including problems of nonworking toilets and showers and prolonged lack of lighting in some windowless areas of the jail. After repeatedly denying any direct responsibility for any of Leonard’s concerns, the commission finally admitted the county was responsible for the water and lighting problems.
Leonard told the commission she felt they showed considerably more concern over stray dogs and cats than stray humans. She expressed her appreciation to Commissioner John Andrew Harris for his willingness to assist with her concerns.
The commission also
- approved the annual tax levy for 2014 subject to required adjustments in the garbage fee and fire fee according to changes in the consumer price index (CPI).
- approved Highway Department to work on a couple of erosion-related issues at Lee County Park in Smiths Station.
- dealt with several Highway Department maintenance and equipment contracts.
- postponed the stormwater workshop until the end of the March 10 commission meeting.
- carried over a number of items to the next meeting.