The Ashley County quorum court’s budget committee ended its meeting Friday with a decision not to take a recommendation to the broader court about providing temporary partial funding for a local ambulance service.
The court could not act until seeing what other stakeholder institutions in the county are doing, the justices decided — and that includes seeing the commitment from the other parties signed and in writing.
But they also acknowledged that the decision can’t be delayed forever.
“We are going to have to provide a solution,” Justice Corliss McCain said. “I don’t think it will go away.”
The committee meeting — which included McCain and Justices Jeff Langley, Ronnie Wheeler, Ricky Sims and Rhonda Pippen — was to discuss the funding ultimatum Ashley County Medical Center gave when deciding to extend its service agreement with FAST Ambulance Service.
While the hospital has underwritten FAST’s profit losses since June in order to keep the Hamburg-based ambulance company open, when agreeing to extend the initial service agreement beyond its expiration date of Oct. 1, the hospital board said it expected the county government and other municipal entities to provide funding of at least $5,000 monthly starting in November.
The City of Hamburg has already agreed to contribute $2,500 a month toward the project. Representatives of the other delta-area cities that will primarily affected by FAST’s potential closure — Parkdale, Portland and Wilmot — have said they plan to do what they can to meet the request, but their respective governments have not met and officially approved any funding yet.
During the discussion, the justices asked FAST co-owners Dusty and Steven Smith about how the company had lost approximately $25,000 in 2016, but that the hospital had covered approximately $40,000 in losses since entering the service contract with the company.
The justices also questioned how the hospital had been funding the ambulance agreement, and if the funds were coming out of the county-owned hospital’s profits or other revenue sources.
ACMC Chief Financial Officer Bill Couch said Monday he would attend the full court’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday to explain everything.
Couch said Monday that there is “no way that sales tax money has been used for other than what it’s intended.”
While the discussion in the meeting ranged at times away from funding and into areas such as patient choice of hospitals, Dusty Smith’s final contribution to the meeting was to remind the court that the service agreement was a temporary solution and that other details could and had to be worked out for the long term.