By Fred Woods
Once again, the Smiths Station Volunteer Fire Department, supported by Commissioner Gary Long and Smiths Station Mayor LaFaye Dellinger, appeared before the Lee County Commission asking that their problems with ETS, the county’s contractee for ambulance services, be resolved by the county commission. This time, as they have several times in the past, the SSVFD asked that the Smiths Station fire district be excluded from the county’s contract with ETS, a wholly-owned division of East Alabama Medical Center, for county ambulance service.
The primary issue, related to Smiths Station VFD being a greater distance from ETS’s base at EAMC, is, according to SSVFD spokesmen, unacceptably long response times. SSVFD, which had rather be served by CARE ambulance service of Columbus, also finds fault with the overall level of service from ETS. CARE, which provides ambulance service to nearby (to Smiths Station) Phenix City and Russell County, has also provided ambulance service to Smiths Station for several years without the “subsidy” the county’s contract with ETS provides.
The overall Lee County ambulance contract calls for the cities of Auburn and Opelika, and Lee County each to pay ETS just under $290,000 annually, for a total contract of approximately $870,000. In addition to this subsidy, ETS charges the individuals who are transported to the hospital. CARE also charges the individuals who are actually transported. CARE, the service Smiths Station prefers, said, through their spokesman, that the total level of subsidy paid by Lee County is one of the highest in the State of Alabama and “… is ridiculous, given the level of services provided.” CARE, along with Long and others from Smiths Station, want the county to issue a RFP for the ambulance contract and give all interested ambulance services an opportunity to respond.
Representatives of the other fire districts except Farmville were present and stated they had no problem with ETS service.
After considerable discussion, the commission agreed to hold a work session with all interested parties, set for the evening of Oct. 20, following the Lee County Recreation Board meeting at 5:30 p.m. and a scheduled work session.
In response to Long’s charge that this problem had come up in the past and no action had been taken, Commissioner Johnny Lawrence and several other commissioners promised Mr. Long a resolution of the issue this year.
The commission also approved the FY 2015 budget of $37,572,443 including $977,873 in service contracts and support for other groups. The budget represents an increase of roughly a quarter million dollars over last year. It includes a one-step pay increase for county employees, including those at the top of their pay grade. No merit pay increases are included in the budget but additional annual leave is authorized for the fiscal year based upon employee evaluations.
The new budget contains $1.1 million to provide required matching for grants, particularly ATRIP. Most of this money came from the traditional resurfacing program, leaving only $429,142 for this resurfacing.
Limited funds in the budget for road resurfacing and maintenance do not bode well for the large number of county citizens appearing before the commission to complain about adverse road conditions. A further road problem is the commission adopted policy of not paving any additional dirt roads.
Two citizens appeared at Monday night’s meeting: Donald Brown of Beulah to discuss dangerous conditions on Lee Road 777, a half-mile long dirt road off LR279 near Prince’s Bridge, and Lee Jordan of Loachapoka, who stated that the county only cut grass on the right-of-way on Lee Road 6 once a year, just before school starts in the fall. Grass growth in the spring and summer pose a visibility problem, a traffic hazard as well as make walking difficult. Jordan also mentioned the serious interference with local traffic on “Syrup Soppin’” day later this month. In each case the county engineer was asked to investigate the complaint and bring back a recommendation to the commission.
In other action commissioners:
– granted District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham permission to use the rear of the courthouse from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 2 as a site to distribute hamburgers sold as part of a fundraiser to support David Eastridge of Beulah, who was seriously injured in a traffic accident last June.
– heard from retiring County Extension Chairman Chuck Browne that Auburn University was in the process of finding his replacement and that Tara Barr, who was an Extension 4-H agent here a few years ago, would serve as Interim Chair until a permanent is named.
– approved an off-premise beer license for the Short Stop Convenience Store in Smiths Station and a retail liquor license for the Outfield Restaurant, also in Smiths Station.
– authorized a Highway Department agreement with Geotechnical Engineering-Testing, Inc., of Mobile for foundation investigation and reports for seven of Lee County’s ATRIP bridge projects.
– heard first reading for two initial appointments and one reappointment to the East Alabama Health Care Authority (Hospital) Board. Interestingly enough, the nominations were sent to the commission by EAMC head (president and CEO) Terry Andrus, the very person the board is charged with overseeing.
Because of Columbus Day, the next commission meeting will be on Oct.14.