FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's chief ambulance service will ask for $2.2 million total from the county and the cities it serves to buy new equipment and for two new ambulances, the Washington County Quorum Court Finance and Budget Committee was told Tuesday.
"Ambulance service has been the tip of the spear in fighting the pandemic but has had no direct access to relief funds," Central EMS chief Becky Stewart told the committee, which met at 6 p.m. in the county courthouse. She referred to federal taxpayer relief funds provided by Congress.
The committee took no action on Stewart's proposal Tuesday. Stewart must first present her plan to participating cities who each pay a share of the service's cost and would pay a share of the proposal, said committee chairman, Justice of the Peace Patrick Deakins. The committee will have an ordinance incorporating Stewart's proposal at its next monthly meeting, he said.
Washington County's share of the expense would be almost $1.2 million if the participating cities approve Stewart's plan, the chief's figures show. The next biggest share would fall to Fayetteville at $757,917.
Central EMS has 12 ambulances now, which went on 22,452 ambulance calls in 2020 -- an average of 62 calls a day for the service. Despite the easing of the pandemic, the service is on track to exceed the number of responses this year. As of August, it had already responded to 22,331 ambulance calls, she said. This is 400 calls more than at the same date last year, she said.
Two ambulances plus their equipment and staff would cost $1.4 million, according to Stewart's figures. She proposes another $823,671 to purchase 24 power load stretcher systems, enough to equip the rest of the service. Such automatic lifters could raise a patient on a stretcher off the ground and into an ambulance. The current lifters the crews have can lift a stretcher up off the ground, but the patient still has to be loaded into the ambulance manually. This is a strenuous task, Stewart told the committee.
The power loaders would help keep crews, Stewart said. Ambulance workers across the United States are getting harder to keep with the heavy workload aggravated by the pandemic, she said.
"There's not enough money, too much work and too much risk," she said.
In a related issue, the committee recommended adding $8,744 from county reserves so the county coroner can hire an additional deputy for the remainder of the year. This will help handle the workload increased by the pandemic.
The committee also recommended approving $265,000 from federal covid assistance money for remodeling and renovating the county assessor's office. Assessor Russell Hill told the committee the office's equipment and furnishings are almost 19 years old.