York County EMS contract vote is delayed by council again

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 4, 2013 

The York County Council on Monday again delayed a decision on changes to its emergency medical service contract with Piedmont Medical Center that could affect the future of rescue squads around the county.

The proposed changes are going back to a council committee for details to be worked out.

Chairman Britt Blackwell and Councilman Chad Williams opposed delaying the vote, with Blackwell saying the issue had been “beaten to death.”

The council needs to put a deadline on making a decision, Williams said, because the contract terms are less favorable now than they were a few months ago.

More than two dozen people attended Monday night’s County Council meeting to voice concern that the contract with Piedmont would effectively shut down local, not-for-profit rescue squads.

Blackwell said he was concerned that some people were misinformed about what effect the contract would have on rescue squads.

The negotiation process was a contractual matter that did not have to be subject to the public discussions that have gone on for nearly a year, he said.

“I believe in what we did because everybody has the right to be heard,” he said.

Piedmont ambulances compete with rescue squads across the county to provide emergency patient care.

Those in opposition to proposed changes took issue with various parts of the contract with Piedmont on Monday.

New wording in the contract would limit many of the rescue squads from coming back into service after having been squashed by competition, said Leo Yakutis, board member of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS.

Giving Piedmont the ability to run off volunteer squads would “degrade” the quality of emergency medical service in many parts of the county, said Brian Murphy, a board member at Fort Mill Rescue.

If the county doesn’t come to an agreement with all service providers, Murphy said, it could force squads to “take their ambulances and go home.”

The county should be able to address all remaining concerns and agree on a new contract in 30 days, Blackwell said.

Councilman Joe Cox pushed for the council to not set a time limit on making a final decision on proposed changes.

“Let’s get something right if we’re going to do it at all,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Cox’s District 3 covers most of western York County.

“Every time we’ve done an addendum to this contract, in my opinion, the county and District 3 have lost something,” Cox said.

Design firm hired for fire training center

Also on Monday, the council hired a York architectural firm to design a new firefighter training center to replace the county’s aging facility on Ogden Road in Rock Hill.

The new facility is planned for county-owned land near the landfill on McFarland Road near York.

The county plans to spend up to $4.2 million on the new training center which will include a vehicle repair shop, classroom space, a helicopter landing pad and a burn tower.

The county originally borrowed $3.1 million to build fire stations in rural York County. On the recommendation of the county’s fire chiefs, council members voted last year to re-assign that money to pay for a new training center.

Some of York County’s rural fire departments, including Bethel, Sharon and Smyrna, are now moving forward with plans of their own to build substations in the western part of the county without help from county-wide tax dollars.

New distribution center eyeing York County

The council approved giving a “fee in lieu of tax” incentive to an unnamed company considering building a 950,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in the county.

The company – dubbed “Project Gekko” – could invest as much as $40 million and create 124 new full-time jobs within the next five years. To help encourage the company’s investment, the state Department of Commerce has offered a $500,000 grant to help York County pay for clearing a site and building infrastructure for “Project Gekko.”

Cox and Councilman Bruce Henderson voted against a separate incentive package on Monday that calls for York County to pay $600,000 in infrastructure improvements costs for a company dubbed “Project Lakemont.”

Such incentives feel almost like “corporate welfare,” Henderson said.

If the county doesn’t offer incentives, Blackwell said, companies will “go somewhere else.”

Attracting businesses is a “win-win,” Councilman Bump Roddey said, because it provides jobs and boosts the county’s tax base.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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