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Column: Pump the brakes on an important decision with emergency services

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A column by John Anderson

When I read here in the Wellsville Sun the county was going enter into a major agreement with MTS (Medical Transport Services of Scio), I thought this was a very smart move.

There is a sense of reassurance when you see a couple ambulances hanging out at the truck stop in Belmont at night or in Wellsville on a weekend. They provide amazing mutual aid to volunteer departments who can’t make every single call.

In the story, Allegany County Administrator Carissa Knapp said there are several questions, but the conversation seems to be leaning toward mutual aid.

Knapp said some questions include, “How could it be organized to best enhance our volunteer agencies? While the focus of this current conversation is on MTS, the most important point to come away with is that the County is only considering this contract because the Board places an extremely high value on each and every EMS agency in the County and the Board is searching for the best avenues available to support those agencies and ensure and improve public access to EMS services across the County.”

Allegany County is not in a position to take on a new venture to purchase enough ambulances and hire enough people to staff three shifts 24/7, year-round to serve each town and village in the county.

Especially when in each town and village, we have a dedicated, trained and highly-skilled group of volunteers in place.

The problem is, this came up way too fast and has caught volunteers and legislators by surprise.

Normally, the names of an elected official or someone in law enforcement pops up on my after 11 p.m. when there is a major incident going on. Monday night, it was to voice concern.

There were some meetings around the county last night, and volunteers actually thought the resolution coming to vote on Wednesday was top-secret. As I rubbed my eyes, I flipped through my phone and found the story we published a few days ago.

No secrets, the concept is out there.

If you are unsure on how county government works, 99 percent of resolutions are a done-deal before a regular meeting. They are formulated and a sub-committee of the legislature already knows they are coming. Homework and discussion takes place. The sub-committee then meets, discusses the resolution, hears last-minute facts and votes to pass it along or not to the full board.

With 15 Republicans on the board, if a subcommittee sends a resolution on to the full board, it’s going to get approved. The Republican legislators have another chance to discuss county business behind closed doors without breaking public meeting rules during a caucus.

That is not the case with this resolution. The agreement was approved by the Public Safety and Ways and Means committees, but the actual contract is not in the hands of legislators to look over and do research.

The concept is a great one, but legislators, who have a vision of cutting taxes, will want answers before voting on a concept.

The Wellsville Sun has a poll up on this issue. Currently, the results are a dead-even 37 percent to 37 percent on yes we want it and no we don’t.

But the final question is “I’m not sure, need more information.” That is 27 percent. Put me in the 27 percent.

If elected officials and volunteers are uneasy because they don’t have the information, a rushed vote on Wednesday will hurt public trust. That is not what MTS needs. Dan and Annette Marsh ran MTS because they care about residents. Like most businesses, they would make sure employees were paid before they were paid. But unlike most businesses, they saved lives.

A lot of lives.

Pump the brakes on this, give volunteers time to see the contract and hear the county vision for the future of MTS and bring it to vote. Why? It’s a matter of life and death.

John Anderson was named a national Gannett Media columnist of the year for his opinions and features on local issues

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