County allows Emergystat to leave

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 13, 2003

Whereas the entire county, including Troy and Brundidge, was poised to have subsidy-free ambulance service at the end of November, now, all three parties may be paying tax money to the company that originally lost the contract.

In a meeting marked by bitter acrimony between commissioners, the Pike County Commission voted Monday night to allow Emergystat to leave Pike County. However, the company, which was awarded the ambulance contract by the commission on Nov. 25, may not be leaving empty-handed.

According to County Administrator Harry Sanders, the company is demanding money from the county - possibly as much as $75,000 - as compensation for a bungling of the ambulance contract situation.

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According to a letter from Emergystat Chief Financial Officer Joeseph Donovan, the company expects the county to pay up and threatens legal action.

"The last four weeks have been tumultuous to say the least. It has been very difficult for both of our organizations," wrote Donovan. "The county requested bids for ambulance service which, through common knowledge and historical precedence, was intended to included the entire county, inclusive of the City of Troy. All three respondents bid accordingly."

Since 1987, the county has jointly negotiated the ambulance contract for the county, the City of Troy and the City of Brundidge. However, the county voted on Nov. 25 to award the bid to Emergystat, which bid for the contract at a cost far below the other companies competing for the bid, Haynes and Care.

Immediately after the 4-2 vote to award the bid to Emergystat, Haynes filed a protest with the county commission, claiming that Emergystat did not meet the terms of the request for proposals because the company wanted to dispatch ambulances from Vernon. Although Emergystat subsequently clarified that dispatching from Vernon was only a preference and the owner of the company, Glen Crawford, promised to provide local dispatching at no additional cost, the threats of a legal challenge by Haynes were sufficient to cause havoc.

Paralyzed by Haynes' legal threats, the commissioners pledged to consult with county attorney Alan Jones. In the meantime, a public relations campaign by Haynes persuaded the cities of Troy and Brundidge to end the traditional joint agreement with the county. Both extended Haynes' contract for another year, leaving Emergystat with only the rights to rural calls from the county.

According to Donovan's letter, that situation is unacceptable.

"This midstream change leaves Emergystat and the county in the unfortunate position of having to address an inherently unfair situation. Emergystat's bid, which was for no subsidy, was based on a given geographic area and number of ambulance transports. Obviously, this is no longer accurate."

Donovan gave the county two options: pay for Emergystat to stay in Pike County and subsidize the cost of lost call volume or allow Emergystat to leave the county and "make restitution

for the funds already expensed and/or committed in the county to date. This will include, but not be limited to, salaries, committed building leases, and capital equipment."

Confronted with these choices, the commissioners voted Monday to allow Emergystat to leave the county but, according to the resolution offered by Commission chair Karen Berry, no money will be given to Emergystat in compensation yet.

How much money Emergystat will eventually get for its scuttled investments in Pike County remains to be seen.

Commissioner Charlie Harris laid out the worst-case scenario.

"We're going to be paying Emergystat up to $75,000. We're going to have to pay Haynes a subsidy to pick up the county. And we're going to have to pay lawyers and court fees to negotiate how much money we owe."

Alan Jones, the county attorney, wanted to avoid finger-pointing.

"Nobody's at fault here. These things happen," he said. "The commission needs to take hold of the situation, deal with it and move on."

As for what the county will do if Emergystat sues the county, Jones declined to comment.

"As for our legal position, I'm not going to get into that right now," he said. "It's not a given that the county owes Emergystat one red cent."

He did, however, say that it would be financially impossible for the cash-strapped county to pay for all of Emergystat's demands. which Sanders estimated could run between $65,000 and $75,000.

"Pike County cannot afford to pay that," he said.

With the county allowing Emergystat to leave town as early as Wednesday, the future of county ambulance service remains unclear. Jones said he expected the county to reach a deal with Haynes in the near future and Haynes CFO Danny Martin said he assumed that all emergency calls from the county would be forwarded to Hayes.

"Our relationship with the county is in limbo right now. We have a contract with the City of Troy and a verbal agreement with the City of Brundidge. We hope to come to an agreement with the county soon," he said.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson