The Piedmont City Council reversed an earlier decision to renew an air ambulance service contract and declined to repair a street sweeper in the face of a possible $1.6 million budget deficit.
Some council members argued reducing the city’s expected spending deficit for the year should take priority. Fixing the city’s only street sweeper and being part of a program that reduced air ambulance service costs for residents isn’t an absolute necessity at this time, some council members argued.
The council made its spending decisions during its regular Tuesday meeting.
The council has yet to pass a budget for its 2017 fiscal year, which started in October. Currently, a draft of the budget shows an approximately $1.6 million spending deficit.
“We’ve got to cut somewhere,” said Councilman Greg South. “We’ve got to do something different.”
The city has seen its sales tax revenue decline in recent years as more businesses have left or closed.
The council voted five to three not to spend $17,301 in quarterly installments for another year of the program offered by the area ambulance flight service, Air Evac Lifeteam. The council had voted last month to renew the annual contract.
Council members Ben Keller, Doug Dickeson, Matt Rogers, Greg South and Bobby Hardin voted not to renew the contract. Mayor Bill Baker and council members Terry Kiser and Mary Bramblett voted to keep the contract.
Under the program, Piedmont residents weren’t charged for use of an Air Evac helicopter if they were airlifted out of Calhoun County. Tami Meeks, a sales manager with AirMedCare Network, which oversees Air Evac, has said that even with insurance, such flights can cost patients upwards of $40,000.
Hardin questioned the need for the city to spend money to help cover ambulance costs for residents.
“What’s next — will the city start paying for earthquake insurance for residents?” Hardin asked.
Baker said he supported the service and that the council should stick with its decisions.
“The last administration did a lot of flip-flopping and I don’t want to see this council getting into that,” Baker said.
The council also unanimously voted to have the city’s street sweeper returned to the city from a repair company in Birmingham instead of spending $40,000 on repairs. The council members agreed to decide later on whether to maybe buy a new street sweeper or possibly lease one for peak leaf season.
“We can’t spend money we don’t have,” South said about the street sweeper repair costs.
Ricky Jackson, city street superintendent, said the machine was built in 1992 and no longer works. Jackson said the street sweeper is used for multiple purposes, including cleaning out gutters, and is needed year-round.
“You can’t run it for two months a year and expect the city to stay clean,” Jackson said.
Despite its money problems, the council did vote to spend $7,000 to repair a vehicle used to install power poles. Casey Ponder, city electric supervisor, said his department can’t install new poles without the machine. Ponder said one pole in the city is damaged and there are others that need replacement.
Baker said the city must repair the machine, otherwise residents might be left without electricity should a pole be knocked down.
“The city needs to take care of this,” Baker said.
Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.