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Georgia County Eyes Private EMS

As funds to run emergency services in Chattooga County dwindle, officials may turn to private ambulance services. "This is an area that the county stands to lose a substantial amount of money" if nothing is done, said Jason Winters, the county's sole commissioner.

More than 250 residents attended a public meeting last week to discuss the possibility of privatizing services. Local officials said most opposed the idea. But after hearing separate proposals from Floyd County Emergency Medical Services and Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome, Ga., Winters said he has been getting mixed feedback.

The county's EMS has served area residents with 31 employees, two 24-hour trucks and one 12-hour truck until recently, when the third truck began to work around the clock to keep up with demand, Winters said. The county service has a budget of $935,000, mostly funded through the county's malt beverage tax and passenger charges. Those doubled this year to a $700 fee plus $12 per mile, EMS Director Herbert Dodd said. The ambulance service now gets only a small share of funding from property tax, but that could change if nothing is done, officials said.

Winters said the dilemma for local government is that residents want more and better services without paying more taxes. "It's not very often you can do that," he said. Privatizing ambulance service could answer both needs, he said. The Floyd County and Redmond Regional Medical Center ambulance services have both offered to operate in Chattooga at no charge to the county, Winters said. Proposed passenger charges would be $775 for Floyd and $975 for Redmond, he said. But those are subject to negotiation.

Dodd said outside services offered to hire him and his staff and add at least 15 more positions. "[Employees] would receive a substantial pay increase because our pay rates are higher," said Bud Owens, Floyd County medical services director. Owens said Floyd County would provide four 24-hour emergency trucks and a fifth non-emergency truck. The service would rent the present Chattooga County ambulance station and lease three other sites, he said.

Winters said the added stations could cut response times from 12 to 15 minutes to about eight minutes. Redmond Regional Medical Center officials did not return calls seeking comment. Officials plan to have another public meeting early in the year before making a decision at the end of January.

EMS PROPOSALS

Floyd County Medical Center -- $775 per trip

Redmond Regional Medical Center -- $975 per trip * Both centers said there will be no cost to the county. Source: Chattooga County administration

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