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Issues with ambulance service remain unresolved

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    Haddock resident Emma Warren speaks to the Board of Commissioners at the Feb. 2 meeting about problems with ambulance service in the county. DEBBIE LURIE-SMITH/Staff

Jones County Board of Commissioners spent a majority of their first meeting in February talking about the familiar topic of ambulance service issues in the county.

Chairman Chris Weidner called the Feb. 2 meeting to order. The opening prayer and pledge to allegiance was led by members of BSA Troop 485 and assistant Scout Master Max Wood.

Emma Warren was the only visitor on the agenda. She spoke to the board about a problem she experienced with the county’s ambulance service.

“If I had my heart attack where I live in Jones Counts I would have died,” Warren stated. She said she moved to Jones County from Alaska eight months ago. The speaker said she had the heart attack before moving here. She now lives in Haddock and had an issue in October.

Warren said it took more than 30 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.

Commissioner Sam Kitchens said the board had met about the problem before. He said one of the issues is that Jones County does not have a hospital.

“We are supposed to have two ambulances in the county. We were not happy with the response time, but it had gotten better,” he said.

Commissioner Daylon Martin said he is curious where the service levels in the county are now.

EMA Director and Jones County Fire Chief Don Graham said he spoke with Tony Brown with Navicent Monday. He said the average response time to Gray is 17 minutes, but Haddock would probably take longer.

“Tony said they had the busiest three months ever and response time had been 30-45 minutes,” Graham said. “We are supposed to have EMTs on the scene to assist until the ambulance can arrive.”

Warren said no one responded to her call until the ambulance arrived.

Kitchens said, at the conclusion of the board’s conversation with Brown, it was assumed the issue would be resolved.

“We keep talking about territory rights. We will not be denied life-saving service because they are not in the right zone,” the commissioner said. “We understand COVID issues, but it is unacceptable to say we have to wait longer.”

Martin agreed it is not acceptable. He asked about contracting with Baldwin County.

“We need to figure this out,” he said.

Graham said, when an ambulance is not available, Navicent is supposed to call other ambulance services.

Commissioner Wendy Vaughn asked how many medics Navicent is short, and Graham said 12. Graham went on to say that there is a shortage of medics in the state.

“I’m not comfortable that, when someone calls, no one is going. We need to revisit this,” the director said.

Warren reiterated that, when a heart attack happens, a few minutes make a difference.

Kitchens said they need to find out why other ambulance services do not respond.

“I’m not buying the territorial part. I want any lawmaker to tell me they will let someone die because they won’t cross a county line,” he said. “We need a mutual aid agreement with whoever it takes.”

New business

The first item of new business, Timber Ordinance revisions, was presented by Code Enforcement Officer Tiffany Davis. She explained that the revisions had been made by the state. Davis said the changes were due to HB 897.

She added that Georgia Forestry is setting up a new database for inputting information. Davis said five counties are testing the system for two months, and Jones County is one of them.

“The database will eventually become mandatory for all,” she said.

She said one of the changes is adjusting bonds from $3,000 to $5,000.

Davis also spoke about the litter program. She said there is a lot of concern about litter, and every county is dealing with it.

“We are all asking the same question, how do we catch them?”

Davis said Keep Jones Beautiful gives out bags and pick up instruments. She said they are posting signs in neighborhoods and replacing signs at the convenience centers.

Martin said he would like to put cameras in high litter areas.

“We would need to raise funds to pay for cameras,” he said.

Davis said the Jones County Sheriff’s road crew helps a lot. She said the area around PK’s on Highway 49 is the worst, but a neighborhood group is trying to pick up the trash.

Commissioner John Wood said the cameras might be more useful at a known dumpsite.

Martin said raising the fine for littering to $1,000 could be a deterrent.

“We’d only need to catch one,” he said.

Davis said the current minimum fine is $275.

County Administrator Jason Rizner asked to move forward with requesting proposals for three fire engines for the county. He said the purchase of the fire engines were part of the county’s bond issue from the recent Special Local Option Sales Tax.

Kitchens made the motion to issue the RFP for the purchase of the three fire engines. The vote to approve was unanimous.

Rizner also asked to move forward for proposals for the CAD and mapping system for the Sheriff’s office to enhance the county’s E-911 system. The CAD and mapping system would also be financed by the SPLOST bond issue.

Kitchens made the motion to issue the RFP and the motion was approved unanimously.

Department heads

Graham thanked the board for approving the RFPs, which will replace three fire engines. He said the plan is to purchase two tankers in the next five years.

The director said it was severe weather awareness week, and sirens would be tested at the schools.

Rizner said the grant administrator the board selected for the CDBG and CHIP grants declined the contracts, and the county needed to look at options. He said the deadline for the CDBG is June, so applying would still be possible. He added that the CHIP grant application would not be possible this year.

Rizner said the Middle Georgia Regional Commission does not administer grants, but it may be possible to contract with another Regional Commission.

Martin said using an RC would speed up the process by a month.

Rizner said he would explore the options and put the CDBG on next month’s agenda.

The next meeting of the board is scheduled Feb. 16. The meeting will be preceded by a work session to discuss blight and litter at 5 p.m. Weidner said the work session would take place at the W.E. Knox Center because of the anticipated crowd. He explained that after the conclusion of the work session, commissioners would travel to the Government Center for their regular 6 p.m. board meeting.