Hearing related to EMS station stop work order is Monday morning

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Steel has already been erected at the Lewis Braselton Boulevard location of the new Emergency Medical Services’ station which is to replace an existing facility, a rented residential structure. Work has been halted until a Dec. 10 hearing in Jackson County Superior Court.

Work on the EMS station to replace the existing facility serving the West Jackson area has been stopped by court order.

Steel is up and the slab have been poured and plumbed but now the work site off Lewis Braselton Boulevard is devoid of activity.

A Monday hearing will be convened at 9 a.m. before Superior Court Judge David Motes related to litigation being brought against Jackson County and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners related to Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) procedures.

At the Dec. 3 commissioners’ meeting, the potential financial implications on the taxpayers of the county was confirmed by County Attorney Julius M. Hulsey after citizens’ comments drew two speakers to question the legal maneuvering.

Commissioner Chas Hardy expressed his frustration that taxpayers would be responsible for any monetary damages awarded to the contractor on the EMS station project as a result of the litigation.

Larry Ewing questioned District 1 Commissioner Tom Crow if he supported relocation of the EMS station which is already being constructed. He also asked several other questions but got no answers. Ewing is asking citizens who are concerned about the stop work order on the West Jackson EMS station to attend the 9 a.m. hearing in Jackson County Superior Court.

Hulsey explained the four plaintiffs in the civil action claim the county is not in compliance with the intergovernmental agreement signed with the municipalities. Specifically, he said the plaintiffs maintain the county failed to appoint a technical review committee and has not published an accounting of SPLOST expenditures. The provision for a separate bank account for the SPLOST funds is also being questioned, Hulsey said.

Albon E. Gilbert, Jerry Tate, James Lyle and Douglas C. Waters Sr., are the plaintiffs being represented by Homer attorney David C. Jones Jr.

At Monday’s commission meeting, Crow, who will take the commission chairman post in January, said the hearing is likely to resolve some of the questions. Crow has questioned the location of the new EMS station and also raised an eyebrow about the county’s use of SPLOST funds for projects rather than for paying down the county’s large debt.

Ron Johnson, a resident of Hoschton, pointed the accusatory finger at Crow, saying he was certain the commissioner was behind the litigation against the county. “I know you’re behind it,” he said. “You’re going to have a rough four years.”

Johnson, who said he has already begun a recall effort against Crow, said that $417,000 has already been spent on the EMS station.

“I do my homework,” said Johnson to Crow as he pointed out that he is on the committee representing Nicholson that serves as the technical review called for in the intergovernmental agreement. “Apparently you don’t do yours.” Johnson said he has been a part of nearly a dozen meetings related to SPLOST activities.

Johnson called current Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell a leader. “My taxes went down and I’ve got better services,” said Johnson, also pointing out that he and Bicknell had run against each other. He thanked Bicknell for his leadership.

District 3 Commissioner Bruce Yates, in whose district the station in contention is located, asked Hulsey to clarify that there is no claim that SPLOST V funds have been improperly spent.

Johnson maintains that Crow has misled the community by suggesting that the site of the new station should be relocated closer to Jefferson to better serve citizens of Jackson County rather than Barrow citizens. Johnson said the circles Crow has referred to prompted people to think Jackson County services would be required to respond into a neighboring county since the circle would lap over into Barrow County.

“You misled people,” said Johnson. “Man up and be honest with the people.”

The 5-mile circles once provided a radius recommended by the American Heart Association which could provide improve survivability for a heart attack victim. If an ambulance could be on the scene quickly to provide proper care, a patient may have a better outcome. Now, road miles are used to determine how to best get patient care provided.

Commissioner Dwain Smith, who was in charge of the ambulance service in the 1990s, said the use of circles were started by his department when the county had only three ambulances. As other stations were added, the circles gave an indication of the preferred site locations.

One of the possible locations for the station now under construction that was considered is an unsafe one, according to Larry Beck. He urged the commission to use common sense.

“I don’t want to turn our government into a government like in Washington, D.C.,” said Beck.

Commissioner Yates asked Director of Public Safety Steve Nichols to explain the staff recommendation for the Lewis Braselton Boulevard site. It had previously been referred to as the Zion Church Road site, however, the road name has since changed after the realignment project.

Four sites were originally studied for the new West Jackson EMS station, said Nichols. One was considered to be too close to the Hall County line, one of Highway 124 would have required a land purchase of an estimated $800,000 plus demolition of the existing structure and the county-owned acreage near Publix on Highway 124 was too small a parcel for the project.

Nichols said the determination about a recommendation for an EMS station location is based on several factors including cost, availability of land, population and call volume.

The county’s master plan for EMS calls for the Med 7 station to be built north of Interstate 85 in the Highway 332 corridor to be constructed in 2010 with the Med 8 station to come north of Traditions of Braselton on Highway 124 and be located between Traditions and Jefferson. It had been slated for 2015. The plan also projected for a Med 9 station to be situated between Jefferson and Commerce.

The downturn in the economy slowed construction so the need for additional EMS stations also slowed. Call volume is now on the rise, said Nichols.

Smith said Jefferson has the highest call volume with an estimated 1,600 calls followed by Commerce with 1,4000 and Plainville, Nicholson and West Jackson each reporting an estimated 900 calls.

Nichols said computers can now aid in strategically locating stations to best serve a community.

“We built on what was there and [the goal is] to put the units closest to the number of people,” he said.