City leaders divided after fire department gets EMS contract

A tie-breaker was needed to finalize the vote to cancel the city's contract with a private ambulance service


Nancy Molnar
The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

UHRICHSVILLE, Ohio — City Council has given the Uhrichsville Fire Department the exclusive right to provide emergency medical service in the city.

The decision made at a special council meeting Friday reversed a Jan. 13 decision to continue using Smith Ambulance as the city's primary emergency medical service for 18 months.

The Uhrichsville Fire Department will take over emergency medical services in the city after a close vote in city council to cancel a contract with Smith Ambulance. (Photo/Uhrichsville Firefighters IAFF Local 4265 Facebook)
The Uhrichsville Fire Department will take over emergency medical services in the city after a close vote in city council to cancel a contract with Smith Ambulance. (Photo/Uhrichsville Firefighters IAFF Local 4265 Facebook)

After three tied motions, the final decisions were made Friday by the newly appointed president of council, Robert Cottrell.

The first motion made to have Uhrichsville Fire Department provide the service was tied. Councilman Ron Miller, ambulance committee chairman, made the recommendation and he, along with council members Amy Myers and Robert Baker, provided the affirmative votes. Myers said that providing "free backup service " to surrounding villages and townships "has to stop."

After explaining that they thought the decision was financially dangerous for the city, councilmen Eric Harmon, Jim Zucal and Matt Fox voted against the motion.

The second motion was to provide Smith Ambulance with a 60-day notice of the cancellation of the city's contract with the Dover company. The motion was approved by Miller, Myers and Baker and declined by Harmon, Zucal and Fox. Cottrell presented the final vote to give Smith Ambulance a 60-day notice.

Miller made the third and final motion, to accept the memorandum of understanding with the fire department's union regarding ambulance services provided by its members. The motion followed the same pattern as previous votes, leaving Cottrell to break the tie. He voted to accept the memorandum of understanding.

Harmon said the decision would be detrimental to the city.

"This is a reckless and dangerous financial decision that will lead to skyrocketing cost, more spending and higher taxes," he said in a prepared statement. "Tonight 10 jobs and a business were killed in the city of Uhrichsville so the city can spend over $300,000 on hiring more employees and growing the size of government.

"If we have this much money to throw around, it needs to be spent on fixing more roads and tearing down blighted properties."

Robert Smith, owner of Smith Ambulance, thanked the city for allowing him to be of service to them for 20 years.

He said Saturday that the company will sell the Uhrichsville building in which it has stationed an ambulance to serve the Twin Cities area. The site's full-time employees, numbering eight or nine, and part-timers, will be offered other jobs in the company, he said.

Uhrichsville's withdrawal from the contract Smith offered to the region puts the company's contract with neighboring communities in a precarious position.

Smith had previously agreed to stage a crew in the Twin Cities to serve the villages of Dennison and Tuscarawas and the townships of Union, Mill, Rush and Warwick. Those communities struck a deal Jan. 14 to have Smith Ambulance provide emergency medical service for an annual subsidy of $17.75 per resident.

"By losing the Uhrichsville piece, that can't happen," Smith told The Times-Reporter. He plans to meet with representatives of Uhrichsville's neighboring communities to discuss the future of the company's service to them.

The deal for the townships and villages was made with the understanding Uhrichsville would be part of the regional agreement. The city would have paid Smith $16 per person per year for the company to be the city's primary EMS provider.

Smith said he has not decided what form future service in the Twin Cities communities could take, such as whether it might cover only peak-demand times, or how much much more it might cost.

"We don't even know," he said. "I personally don't see how it's possible to even remain in the region. I just don't think there's going to be enough revenue to do that."

He said the company is strong and can continue to serve those communities and medical facilities where it is wanted.

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©2020 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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