DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - Decatur’s only ambulance service was set to lose its ability to operate in the city Monday, but the City Council gave it a split-vote reprieve.
The council approved a five-year operating license and a reduced performance bond for First Response Ambulance Service with the stipulation that the company secure a bond or an alternative agreement with the city by Dec. 31 to keep the license.
Our news partners at the Decatur Daily report the meeting was at points heated before the council voted 3-2 to approve reducing the performance bond from $2 million to $250,000. A 4-1 vote to approve the license followed.
David Childers, president and owner of HealthCare Investment Group, which owns First Response, said he has been unable to obtain a performance bond because potential issuers are wary of the city’s year-old ambulance service ordinance’s fines and points penalties “that could put us out of business in less than two months.”
City Attorney Herman Marks said that the extension of the licensing process to Dec. 31 was necessary because he needs time to work on the performance bond issue after only recently becoming involved in it. Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander has been the lead attorney on the ambulance service ordinance and the bond, but he was not at Monday’s council meeting.
Council President Paige Bibbee and Councilman Billy Jackson said they are unhappy with delaying the process since the ordinance was approved a year ago.
“This should have been resolved a long time ago,” Jackson said.
Marks said an official from the Valence Group told him this past week that an audited financial statement is needed from First Response to move forward, but Childers said the same official and one from another company said bond underwriters won’t look at a his company’s finances until the penalty structure of the city’s ambulance service ordinance is addressed.
“The problem is not the financial support,” Childers said. “The problem is no one will entertain a bond.”
Bibbee, who voted against lowering the performance bond and approving the license, said she wanted the council to approve the certificate of public necessity and convenience (CPNC) with a compromise introduced last week. The agreement would require First Response to put up a $25,000 deposit that it would forfeit if it ceased operate without a 30-day notice. If it buys a new ambulance and puts it into operation by June 30, 2021, the company would get the deposit back.
But City Council members Chuck Ard, Kristi Hill and Jackson were insistent on a bond.
“I will not go five years without a bond,” Jackson said.
Ard argued the bond is needed “for the health and safety of our citizens” in case First Response closes or leaves quickly as Decatur Emergency Medical Service did in the middle of the night several years ago.
Bibbee asked Ard and the other council members if they have a backup plan. She answered her own question by saying they don’t.
She said two area ambulance services told her they would provide mutual aid in an emergency, but “none of them said they would come to Decatur and it’s because of our ordinance.”
Councilman Charles Kirby supported Bibbee with a vote against lowering the performance bond, but he voted with the majority on the issuance of the CPNC.
Marks said he wants an agreement by the end of the year that allows First Response to continue operating with the five-year CPNC.
“The CPNC says the company has to meet city, state and national laws so, if it doesn’t have a bond, it’s violating the certificate’s requirements,” Marks said.