Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Commission

Columbia County privatizes EMS -- Com DePratter: It's "Economic Development."

This past Thursday night, May 19, 2011,  Columbia County's infamous and unprepared County Commission, while disregarding ongoing union negotiations and avoiding and discouraging input and participation from both the public and the County's EMS workers, took one hour and forty-five minutes to eliminate 20 years of loyal service and threw Columbia County's EMS first responders under the bus.

During the May 18, 2011, County/Union negotiation session, the Union demonstrated economies that could have had the County's EMS service running at a zero subsidy. Union VP Arron Johns (left) points out savings to the county's negotiator, Mike Grogan (right-black jacket).

On February 3, 2011, after working since 2009 without a contract, Commissioner Ronald Williams, during that evening's County Commission meeting, claimed to be acting under the "advice from our attorney" when he moved to seek qualifications to privatize the County's EMS. He said, "We have reached a stalemate with negotiations, we're deadlocked."

The negotiations between the County and the Union continued on April 27th and May 18th. At the conclusion of the May 18th negotiation sit down, another negotiating session was scheduled tentatively for June 8th or as soon thereafter as possible.

At Thursday's County Commission meeting, after an hour and a half of discussing a contract that both the County Staff and the County Commission were ill equipped to discuss, the County agreed to sign a contract with Lifeguard Ambulance.

Zero Subsidy or $1,000,000 plus buildings for a buck.

The hallmark of the negotiations between the County and Lifeguard were the two parties coming to an agreement that allowed EMS services to run in the County without any subsidy.

On Thursday night it was clear that was not going to happen unless the County agreed to lease the six County ambulances, presumably with the life support equipment, to Lifeguard for a dollar a year. The County threw in the two EMS corrals on the arm, or the long arm of the working families of Columbia County.

Columbia County calls this "no subsidy."

Herb Sellers of Century Ambulance, who was the interfacility provider of choice in the County, bought and paid for his own trucks, equipment and buildings. He did not return the Observer's phone call for comment.

Farewell Loyal County Union Workers

Two of the five County Commissioners halfheartedly thanked their neighbors, the County's EMS workers, for their years of service before they unanimously voted to put them out of work.

Newly elected Commissioner Rusty DePratter said in referring to the gross mismanagement of EMS by the County,"... maybe in the past there has been a slight mishandling of the situation. I don't want it to reflect on the employees of EMS ... This is economic development... I can't please everybody. I'm sorry."

Commissioner Ronald Williams said he could remember when funeral homes provided EMS service in the County. He said, "We've had some great employees with EMS... It comes to a Reganomics issue, where your dollars just got to add up... I was really hoping that at the last negotiation would have lead to a more cost saving suggestion, which it did not."

The day before, at the May 19th negotiating session, the Union came up with a series of savings proposals, which according to the Union, would have enabled the County to run EMS with no subsidy.

Unfair Labor Practices

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, local union officials believe the actions of the County were union busting and this will end up in Court.

Once again, the working families of Columbia County will foot the bill, as Columbia County's infamous good ol' boy County Commission sticks to business as usual in Columbia County.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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