Cleveland City Council hires new ambulance service, sticks with same tax rate as previous 2 years

Rebecca Sandt, project manager with HR Green, provides an update on projects during the Aug. 27 Cleveland City Council meeting.

By Vanesa Brashier,

Cleveland City Council approved a three-year contract with Allegiance Mobile Health for ambulance service at a special meeting on Aug. 27. The contract, which begins on Sept. 1, will cost the city $45,000 annually for round-the-clock ambulance service 365 days a year.

Allegiance Mobile Health came in with a much lower bid for ambulance service than City Ambulance at $150,000 annually and AMR at $497,000 annually. Liberty County EMS, which holds the contract for ambulance service through the end of August, did not submit a new proposal for service and offered instead to renegotiate the contract.

The previous contract with Liberty County EMS was for $50,000 per year without the guarantee of an ambulance dedicated to the City of Cleveland. The renegotiated rate with Liberty County EMS would have been $130,000 for the same level of service or $608,000 to provide round-the-clock coverage.

When council met last Tuesday, Aug. 20, to initially consider the bids, Mayor Otis Cohn presented council with some online reviews that showed Allegiance Mobile Health with a 1-star rating and the other companies faring higher in the reviews. At the Aug. 27 meeting, Councilwoman Jennifer Bergman-Harkness shared information she had learned about Allegiance by making calls to leaders in neighboring counties where Allegiance is contracted for ambulance service.

“I called the county judge’s office in Polk County. I wanted to see if they had a positive opinion of Allegiance. They let me know they haven’t had any problems,” Bergman-Harkness said. “With as much as we watch our budget, and how we owe it to our citizens to clip our coupons and make sure we are making positive and good financial decisions, there is no way we can conceivably spend $497,000 a year with AMR. I think that is an option that is completely off the board for me.”

Left with three other options, she said, she was torn between continuing with Liberty County EMS as she is very familiar with the quality of service provided by the EMTs and paramedics.

“I have sat and broken bread with them many times,” she said. “We are looking at $130,000 a year for the service we already have from them or $608,000 to provide 24/7 coverage. We are between a rock and hard place.”

Bergman-Harkness added that she could not justify spending three times the money for ambulance service and was leaning toward Allegiance.  

City Finance Director and Assistant City Manager Bobby Pennington explained that the tight budget would make it difficult to find $130,000 for Liberty County EMS or City Ambulance. He said he could find an additional $50,000 to go with the $45,000 already budgeted if it meant providing citizens with the right services – better services.

Councilwoman Carolyn McWaters suggested that the additional $50,000 be used to provide another ambulance in the Cleveland area, but City Manager Kelly McDonald advised that they were only allowed to approve bids as they were submitted.

“That is not something we can entertain – adding another ambulance tonight – under the bids that have been submitted. That might be something we can renegotiate in a year. On the table tonight, we have one medic unit. We cannot entertain anything else unless we resubmit bids,” she said. “If we see that we need that, then it’s something we can look at down the road.”

Council voted 4-1 in favor of the contract with Allegiance Mobile Health with Bergman-Harkness voting against it.

In other business, the Aug. 27 council meeting was preceded by a public hearing for the proposed tax rate of $0.77 per $100 assessed property value for Fiscal Year 2020. The rate is the same as the last two years. The hearing concluded without a single public comment.

Council also heard from Rebecca Sandt, project manager for HR Green, the company hired by the city for professional consulting and engineering services. Sandt gave an update on Water Plant #2, where a project is wrapping up later this year.

“One of our ongoing projects is in the Glen Park area on Water Plant #2. For that, it included plugging the existing well. The well was plugged in March and the new well was installed in June. Right now, they are working on the booster pump station, which is scheduled for completion in November of this year. The other part of that project was rehabilitating the existing water tank, which was completed in February,” Sandt said.

Other projects with HR Green are for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, a computer system that allows the City to monitor its water plants. The new SCADA system will be operational by October.

In a budget workshop that followed the council meeting, Pennington was asked to find funding for the addition of two new police officers for Cleveland Police Department. Council members were concerned that Cleveland PD is too short-staffed to handle crimes and problems associated with the growth coming toward Cleveland.

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget, including the modifications suggested by Council, is expected to be approved in September as required by law.

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