Ind. county says 'no' again to request for third ambulance

For the second time in a month, the Floyd County Council declined to fund the purchase of a third ambulance, but EMS officials won't take no for an answer


Chris Morris
The Evening News and The Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — For the second time in a month, the Floyd County Council rejected a request to fund a third county ambulance, to service the Greenville area, by a 4-3 vote. At present, two ambulances provide coverage for Floyd County.

But the fight is far from over.

"We are going to keep bringing it up and putting it on their [council] agenda," Floyd County Commissioners' President Billy Stewart said.

The commissioners recently voted 3-0 to place a New Chapel ambulance at the Greenville Fire Station. Stewart said he would even commit Economic Development Income Tax funds to pay for the ambulance if the council failed to approve $50,000 in funding from the hospital proceeds fund Tuesday.

But EDIT funds would still have to be appropriated by the council, and that doesn't look like it is going to happen anytime soon.

"We've done our research and we are committed to doing the right thing for the taxpayers of this county," council member Danny Short, who was one of the no votes, said. "I take this very serious. I am not just going to give a free pass like it has been in the past. I don't see a rush why we can't wait a few more months on this."

Short said the commissioners and council have already paid for a study to look at EMS services in the county, so why not wait for those results before making a decision on a third ambulance?

"In January we had a priorities meeting and we discussed at length about having a sustainable budget," he said. "We don't want to have to count on the [hospital investment] spend rate and have to scramble at the end of the year to balance the budget.

"The vice president of the council has been on there 11 years and two commissioners have been there 2 1/2 years. Never before has a need for another ambulance come up like it has this year. What is the rush?"

Short, along with Adam Roberts, Dale Bagshaw and Leslie Knable voted against the funding request while Brad Striegel, Denise Konkle and Tom Pickett voted in favor.

The council vice president, Striegel, said recently that Greenville Elementary School is underserved, which is the main reason an ambulance is needed.

An all-volunteer fire department serves Greenville even though the town is hoping to become a fire district this year, which would allow around the clock staffing. If a 911 call comes in for emergency medical care, often New Chapel ambulances must come from Georgetown or Charlestown Road. Fire departments from Lafayette Township and Georgetown Township often respond to Greenville calls. Striegel said that could take five or 10 extra minutes for emergency personnel to arrive and those are minutes someone in a medical emergency may not have.

"There is a definite need out here," Striegel said of the Greenville area. "They [fire service] are total volunteer out here. There are times they may not have trucks rolling, which causes services to be delayed. That puts people's lives at risk and we can do better than that."

Stewart also said the reason a third ambulance is needed now is due to a population increase. He said two ambulances can no longer provide needed coverage in the county. He believes it's a matter of public safety.

"There is more population now, more traffic on roads. Why did the county council hire 10 new police officers? It's because the county is growing," he said. "At the end of the day, the commissioners are responsible for deciding whether the county needs a third ambulance. It's just like if roads need paved and striped. It's our responsibility as the executive branch. It's not the county council's responsibility."

Not only is an EMS study underway to determine the coverage needed in the county, but also the county's two governing bodies have applied for a grant from the Floyd Memorial Hospital Foundation, which could be used to fund the ambulance.

"If we have commissioned a study, why go on our own before that study is completed?" Bagshaw said. "I think we should base our decision on that study. We have had this same coverage for 20 years, then this discussion came up and a decision was made. I don't know if it was data driven. Why not see what our needs are and act accordingly?"

Stewart said the study is to see if the county should have its own ambulance service, not whether a third ambulance is needed. He said there are millions of dollars in unencumbered funds in the hospital proceeds fund and the council won't appropriate $50,000 of that money for a third ambulance, which could save someone's life.

"They [council] want to spend $20,000 for laptops, but not $50,000 for an ambulance, a service that is needed," he said. "It makes no sense to me. I think there are some [council] members who don't know what their roles are. It's our role to decide what is needed in the county and the council's role to decide if the county can afford the expense. They are not doing their job."

Roberts said the county needs a long term, strategic and sustainable EMS plan.

"We need to determine how many ambulances we need and where to centrally position them to provide the most efficient and best possible service to each and every household," he said. "We voted to fund a professional study that will provide that information and more."

Those results should be back in July, Roberts said.

"The details around this temporary fix in Greenville are all wrong," he said. "It's like throwing darts in the dark. It doesn't solve the problem and would be doing a disservice to taxpayers."

But Stewart said it's council members who is doing the disservice. He also said it takes both the commissioners and council to approve using hospital funds and last year the commissioners agreed to give the council $3.5 million to balance the budget. He said they will have to take a hard look before agreeing to give the council hospital funds again this year to balance their budget.

"Public safety is at risk. They are crossing the line," he said. "We are asking for $50,000 for an ambulance to provide public safety. They ask us for three and a half million dollars to balance the budget. To me, who is being irresponsible with taxpayers' money? This is very frustrating."

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©2019 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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