Augusta Commission members explain votes on ambulance contract

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 12:37 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2023 at 3:30 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Augusta’s ambulance provider is pulling out of the city after city leaders rejected a contract with the company Tuesday.

A decision was expected on ambulance services in Augusta – and it all came to a head with the contract failure Tuesday.

Right now, no one knows what will replace Gold Cross.

We talked to all four Augusta Commission members who voted no, and a need for clarity was a common theme.

Voting against the contract were commission members Jordan Johnson, Stacy Pulliam, Tony Lewis, and Francine Scott. Voting Yes were Catherine Smith McKnight, Alvin Mason, Sean Frantom, Brandon Garrett, and Wayne Guilfoyle. Abstaining was Bobby Williams.

Williams voting no would have made it an even split, giving the mayor the tie-breaking vote.

Due to technicalities of voting in the commission, the contract would have required six yes votes to pass.

“As of about five minutes ago, I’ve notified the state that we are going to be ceasing operations and surrendering our zone,” said Gold Cross Vice President Steven Vincent. “It’s a sad day. We’ve enjoyed 17 years in Augusta-Richmond County as the 911 provider.”

For those commissioners who voted no, they did so not knowing what lies ahead. But they told us they needed more clarity on the terms presented.

Commissioner for District 1 Jordan Johnson said: “Since April, we’ve had about three or four dollar amounts on the table. Since April, we’ve had a dollar amount and not an inducement amount.”

Commissioner for District 6 Tony Lewis said: “There are just some things that when we’re talking about giving $4 million away that I need great clarity on.”

Commissioner for District 2 Stacy Pulliam said: “We have not sourced where the $2 million they are now saying is for the CRVs and for capital.”

Commissioner for District 9 Francine Scott said: “Did not have what was previously discussed and given to us by staff.”

There’s still no exact timeline on how soon Gold Cross will fully pull out. That will be up to the state, which now controls the zone for the time being to figure out the stopgap measure.

Regardless of the vote, the mayor is making it a priority to immediately find a solution.

Even as soon as the next commission meeting.

District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom said: “I can assure you that the community is not going to forget this vote. I can assure you that one.”

We reached out to Williams, and he is unavailable for comment. We asked Gold Cross if there is any possibility of them coming back. They told us it is difficult to jump back in once they’ve pulled out. They’ve already surrendered the zone to the state, and they will start making plans for what to do with their 10 properties and their resources across the county.

The company planned to notify the Georgia Department of EMS and Trauma that it was surrendering the zone for Richmond County.

That means it will be in the state’s hands to figure out a stopgap measure while Richmond County leaders figure out the long game.

Gold Cross will continue with its Columbia County zone, and it also contracts with Jefferson County.

The company said that even if the situation changed, it’s doubtful Gold Cross could come back to the table in Augusta. Once a company leaves, it’s very difficult to come back, Gold Cross said.

The company has 10 properties in Richmond County that it will very quickly start evaluating what to do with.

However, every employee will still have a job with Gold Cross. They will be offered positions in the company elsewhere.

The company had said it needed a substantial subsidy from the city because of rising costs as well as a high number of people who don’t pay for the service they receive.

Among the contract provisions being discussed Tuesday at the meeting were:

  • Eight ambulances 24 hours a day based at fire stations.
  • One quick response vehicle 24 hours a day and two additional ones during peak hours.
  • A $1.95 million inducement paid to Gold Cross immediately, plus a $1.75 million annual subsidy from the city.
  • A 120-day ramp-up period for Gold Cross to meet the new standards.
  • Annual financial disclosures.
  • No performance bond.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commission member Bobby Williams asked whether Gold Cross, if it leaves, is obligated to Richmond County to serve a certain amount of time.

Company Vice President Steven Vincent indicated the answer was no – that Gold Cross would just give up the emergency medical service zone to the state.

Williams had been called out of order twice by 2:15 p.m.

Also weighing in on Gold Cross at the meeting were former Commissioners Dennis Williams, John Clarke and Moses Todd.