Orange Beach taking ‘parallel track’ on ambulance service
By John Mullen
Even as MedStar tries to find solutions to problems with response times in Orange Beach the city is going to continue exploring starting an ambulance service if its own.
“We want to start a parallel track,” Mayor Tony Kennon said. “They may bring something that changes or turns all of our heads then that would be wonderful. If not, we’ll move forward with our plan. But we’ll start that parallel track.”
Kennon’s comments came during a joint city council session on Oct. 2 with the regular session first followed by a work session. The council also discussed subsidizing an increase in health insurance for employees coming in 2019.
“There was a meeting today with MedStar and they are to come back with any possible solutions for solving our problem and what we expect for our citizens,” Kennon said.
On Sept. 18 Fire Chief Justin Pearce told the council preliminary studies were being done on what it will take for the city to run its own ambulance service. In the Oct. 2 meeting, Kennon discussed going ahead with plans for new staff to man the new ambulances.
“What I would like to ask if we’re going to have to add nine firemen to backfill the seasoned firemen and paramedics going into the ambulance service,” Kennon said. “We don’t want to bring in nine on Jan. 1 and start training them all at the same time. We’d like to go ahead and start that process now with four and then four more in a month or six weeks so we will have the newbies seasoned on the firetrucks when the seasoned guys come off. We won’t be training nine at one time.”
Finance Director Ford Handley told the council medical costs for city employees were going to rise 9.3 percent beginning in 2019.
“Typical for insurance because we all know insurance prices are rising and will continue to rise,” Handley said. “Working with the finance committee we came out with a couple of solutions to subsidize that increase. The main goal of this was to not increase the monthly premiums on the employees and that’s what we recommend the council do for 2019.”
According to a memo from Handley, the savings will come from modifying the prescription network for a 5 percent savings and increasing the deductible for copays for urgent care visits for a savings of 4 percent. The out-of-pocket max for employees was raised but the city is still below the statewide benchmark for health insurance for local governments.
“If an employee or their family go to an urgent care that is not Southern Rapid Care, the copay will go from $35 to $75,” the memo states. “This does not affect primary care physicians or specialist visits.”
In August, the city announced it was going to move primary care for employees from the Symbol Clinic to Southern Rapid Care in The Commons shopping center on Canal Road on Jan. 1. Handley said this move should also save the city and employees on health care costs.
During regular session, council also:
• Passed a resolution accepting the donation of a piano from the Friends of the Arts to be housed at the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach.
• Approved a retail common carrier liquor license application by Paradise Parasail, Inc., for Cetacean Cruises, at The Wharf.
• Voted to revoke the business license of Pleasure Island Property for failing to pay lodging taxes.
• Heard the first reading of an ordinance to amend the planned unit development for Mariner Lakes allowing a variance for a screened in porch. The second reading will be on Oct. 16 and the applicants were asked to contact the next door neighbor and the homeowners’ association for an opinion on the request.
During the work session, the council:
• Discussed a resolution authorizing the execution of an Alabama Coastal Area Management Program grant agreement with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the update of the City of Orange Beach Comprehensive Land-use Plan. The grant is for $37,500 which the city will have to match in cash or in-kind services. Another resolution was discussed to hire the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission to provide professional and technical assistance in preparing the updated land-use plan at a cost of $50,000.
• Discussed a resolution authorizing the purchase of a vehicle for the police department from state bid in the amount of $32,416.
• Discussed a resolution authorizing the execution of a professional services agreement with Sawgrass Consulting for civil engineering, land surveying, and construction management services and a task order for $21,500 to develop an Orange Beach Recreation Complex Master Plan.