Ambulance charges to stay where they are

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By Damon Lawrence

The idea of raising rates that the Roane County Ambulance Department charges for transport services didn’t have Commissioner Nick Forrester’s support.
“I think there’s others ways that we can go about bringing in revenue, rather than raising rates of our citizens,” he said. “I just want to say that I’m opposed to it, and hope you’ll agree with me.”
Seven others did and a motion to raise the rates failed 8-7 at Monday night’s commission meeting.
“This is a bad time to raise fees on anybody,” Commissioner Ray Cantrell said.
Ron Berry, Benny East, Randy Ellis, Chris Johnson, Stanley Moore and Fred Tedder also voted against increasing the rates.
Copper Bacon, James Brummett, Bobby Collier, Jerry Goddard, Carolyn Granger, Steve Kelley and George Nelson voted for it.
Ambulance director Gloria Wright said she did some research and found that Roane County’s rates are below what surrounding counties charge.
The ambulance committee approved her recommendation that the rates be increased last Thursday, and commissioners waived the 12-day rule Monday night to get the resolution on the agenda.
“There’s no reason for our ambulance service to be a discount service,” Kelley said. “If this brings us in line with what the other ambulances in the area are charging, I think that’s perfectly reasonable.”
“I do think there’s a valid point bringing up some competition in other counties,” Johnson countered. “However, I don’t know if the other counties use 2 (property tax) cents in addition to what they’re doing to fund their ambulance.”
The ambulance department is facing some difficult times financially.
Last week, Wright said she expected the rate increases to generate approximately $179,000 a year in additional revenue.
“I’m not sure at this point how much confidence I can put in our ambulance director,” Berry said.
Last month County Executive Ron Woody put Wright on notice that he was exploring the possibility of outsourcing the ambulance department.
Berry said it’s no coincidence that the rates became an issue after that.
“None of this was ever mentioned until the word ‘outsource’ was put in the paper,” Berry said. “The word ‘outsource’ got us all kinds of recommendations. It got us all kinds of ‘here’s-how-we-can-do-this’ and ‘we-can-do-that.’”
The commission did vote 9-6 to outsource the ambulance department billing to a company called NRG.
Berry, Brummett, Ellis, Forrester, Goddard, Gran-ger, Johnson, Nelson and Tedder voted for it.
Moore said the billing should have stayed with the county.
“Because then the responsibility goes away as the director,” he said. “You don’t have to bill. You got everything you need. Anybody can succeed with that pat hand right there.”
Afterward, Wright said she didn’t have any response about what was said about her during the meeting.
“I wish we had passed the rate increase because it would certainly have helped us tremendously, but we will go on with what we have to work with,” she said. “Hopefully, everything will be good.”