Commissioners split over a vote Tuesday to renew Forsyth County’s ambulance service contract for 2013 with a 10 percent increase in costs.
Advanced Ambulance sought the increase to recoup debts being written off from indigent users and fuel costs that can no longer be absorbed, said Donna Kukarola, procurement director.
Kukarola recommended renewing the contract at the previously agreed upon 3 percent increase annually for the five-year contract extension.
The commission voted 3-2, with Commissioners Pete Amos and Jim Boff opposed, to do so.
The increase will add nearly $67,000 to the cost in 2013 and about $355,000 for the overall five year contract.
The price for 2013 totals a little more than $1 million.
Through the agreement, the county receives six 24-hour emergency ambulances staffed by a paramedic and an emergency medical technician.
JB Owen of Advanced Ambulance said the company is owed about $325,000 for services related to county business and has written off more than $800,000 in bad debt so far this year.
“It’s through no one’s fault. With the economy, jobs and insurance, it’s getting to a point where fewer and fewer people are able to pay,” Owen said. “We do work with people.”
Commissioner Patrick Bell said he hears from residents that the company provides “great service,” and helps with payments.
He felt granting the increase would prevent a heavier burden on residents if the company more aggressively sought to recoup debts.
“We’re supposed to provide for the public health, safety and welfare,” Bell said. “I would rather help them out a little bit than have them have to beat on our citizens.”
Commissioner Pete Amos disagreed because the county has approved its 2013 budget and didn’t include such an increase.
Owen did not know why the request wasn’t officially brought to the county prior to budget approval in October.
The additional cost will be taken from the county’s reserve fund, which is about $6 million above the minimum policy savings of 25 percent of the total budget, finance director David Gruen said.
Fire Chief Danny Bowman said the fuel costs have been fairly steady since 2008, so he didn’t understand that particular argument.
At the request of Commissioner Todd Levent, Bowman explained that the county could run its own ambulance service at a cost of about $3.9 million for the first year, and then about $1.5 million for the following years, minus the $1 million subsidy being paid to Advanced.
“I would think you’d be in the black within three years, if that,” Bowman said.
Levent said compared to the cost of startup, he felt the additional $67,000 for this year to the private company was worth it.