EMS, trash fees on commission agenda

While the issue of an authorized emergency medical services provider in the south end of Dale County is still unresolved, the county commission has been subjected to unfair criticism, according to two Dale County Commissioners.

“For the last several months we’ve been dealing with this issue of EMS on the south end of the county,” said Dale County Commissioner Frankie Wilson at the commission meeting Nov. 26. “At recent meetings they have been here criticizing us because Midland City hasn’t received any funds.

“I just want to make it newsworthy today that they (Midland City EMS) have not made a run since Saturday evening (Nov. 23) because of internal problems. It’s now Tuesday,” he said.

Wilson, who is also the chairman of the Ozark-Dale County E911 Board, was referring to a resolution passed by the commission Sept. 24 to resolve the question of what emergency medical services providers in South Dale County should receive tag tax funds generated by a $5 county wide tag tax enacted in January to benefit emergency medical services.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, the commissioners voted by majority to appoint the Echo EMS to provide EMS services to the towns of Napier Field, Grimes, Pinckard, Newton, Midland City and the unserved areas of south Dale County.

The decision was made because it has been nearly a year since Dale County voters in January 2019 approved a tag tax for emergency medical services providers and the south end of the county still disagrees who is the EMS provider for their area.

At the commission meeting July 23 the commissioners gave a 30-day deadline to the South Dale municipalities to present a viable EMS plan, adding that in the absence of such a plan they would give the tag tax money to another EMS to provide services.

With no “viable plan” being presented by the Sept. 24 meeting, the commission passed a resolution appointing Echo EMS to be the EMS provider for the south end of the county citing the original legislation that states, “In the event the county commission determines that proper EMS services are not being adequately provided in an area of the county, the commission may divert a portion of the funds to contract with private EMS services as needed in the unserved/underserved area.”

The resolution passed Sept. 24 included a provision for municipalities to provide documented evidence of services for at least 90 days and petition the commission for the tag tax funds.

At the Nov. 12 meeting the commissioners approved payment of each municipality’s request with the exception of the $15,813.86 request from Midland City EMS.

Representatives from Midland City told commissioners that they are supporting the Midland City EMS until such time as the multi-municipality South Dale EMS is certified by the state. They questioned why Midland City has to “petition” the commission with emergency response and staffing numbers when the other entities have routinely received requested funds quarterly. They questioned also why Echo EMS had been the designated EMS responder for the south Dale municipalities.

The commission appointed Echo EMS but they put a provision in that any town that wants to operate their own EMS system can file a petition for relief from this action, Dale County Attorney Henry Steagall said at that meeting.

Midland City had handled their own dispatch calls until Oct. 3 when they joined the Ozark-Dale County E911 dispatch center. “So 90 days from Oct. 3 will be the minimum time required to show dates on your calls,” Steagall said. “You have to petition the commission and show your facilities, what equipment you own and your professional full time staff.”

At that meeting Midland City EMS Director Phillip Owings challenged the commission’s use of the words “professional” EMS staff adding that all Midland City Rescue personnel are currently certified.

“Not at this time,” was Owings’ response to Wilson’s question about Owing’s certification.

At the Nov. 12 meeting, the commission passed a resolution amending the existing resolution by cutting the time for municipalities not being currently funded to be allowed to petition the commission for tag tax funding to 60 instead of 90 days.

“About three-fourths of our county was left with no EMS service,” Wilson said at the Nov. 26 meeting after noting that “internal problems” had created a no-response status from Midland City EMS since Nov. 23.

“I just want to set the record straight that if you come here to criticize the commission you need to have your facts together and not just make up your facts when you get in the meeting about your EMS service,” Wilson said.

“Our position has been not to hold the money but to give it to Echo (EMS) has been justified by such as the events over the weekend,” Wilson said, referring to the Midland City EMS. “I just wanted to bring it up at a commission meeting.”

“It puts me in a bad position,” said Dale County Commissioner Charles “Chic” Gary, whosedistrict includes South Dale County.

“I was in a meeting (with the South Dale municipal officials) this past Thursday and I stated that it doesn’t matter to me which one does this (provide emergency medical services) but somebody needs to take the bull by the horns and get this thing started,” Gary said. “I’m trying to support where I live but it’s getting to be very difficult.”

Echo EMS Director Heath Hughes told the commission that his department has provided emergency services since Nov. 23 when he was asked to by Ozark-Dale County E911 Director Paul Simmons.

An Echo EMS crew has been staged on Highway 231 near Midland City to expedite response to emergency calls from that area.

“You are doing all you can to keep the south end of the county covered,” Gary told Hughes. “I appreciate you doing what you are doing.”

In unrelated business, Blankenship told the commission that the fees for solid waste pickup service in the county will have to be an agenda item in the near future. At issue is the fact that the new contract, although the low bidder, is still an increase in cost to the county.

Mark Dunning Industries was awarded the Dale County garbage collection contract at the Dale County Commission meeting Oct. 8 and that contract will begin in February 2020.

MDI’s bid of $12.50 per container was the low bid. The other bidders were Arrow from Abbeville for a bid price of $12.95 per container and Amwaste from Mobile with a bid price of $12.71 per container.

MDI has been the Dale County garbage pickup provider for Dale County since the county decided to privatize the contract in 2013.

The existing contract was rebid after Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship told commissioners April 23 that MDI had asked to renegotiate the contract they have held with the county since December 2013.

Blankenship said that if there are material changes in the existing contract, it is required by law that the contract be rebid. He said that he had received confirmation of that legal requirement from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama and Dale County Attorney Henry Steagall.

MDI began distributing the 95-gallon rollout garbage carts in Dale County in December 2014 and began weekly household garbage pickup services in February 2014 to those in the Dale County Solid Waste service area to include the city of Level Plains and the town of Clayhatchee. The city of Daleville has a separate garbage pickup service provider.

At the meeting Nov. 26, Blankenship said that the county will be losing $162,000 a year under the new contract. With some $1.1 million in the reserve fund, that amount will be depleted in about seven years, he said.

The next meeting of the Dale County Commission is Dec. 10 at the county government building in Ozark. A work session begins at 10 a.m. and is followed immediately by a voting meeting. Both meetings are open to the public.

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