EMS criticism draws rebuke

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Iola commissioners said Tuesday they likely would not be interested in spending thousands of dollars to hire an outside consultant to conduct a top-to-bottom review of Allen County’s emergency services.
Each community in Allen County is being approached to gauge interest in hiring the consultant. Total cost to the county would be about $45,000; Iola’s share: $13,500.
Suggestion of the review drew a sharp rebuke from Commissioner Craig Abbott.
“I’ve repeatedly said that until we get through our first year, I’m not really interested in making any changes,” Abbott said. “Let’s see exactly where we are after our first annual report.”
The city broke away from the Allen County Emergency Medical Service in December to start up its own ambulance service.
Part of Abbott’s resistance — in addition to the cost — was the idea that Iola needs to change its ambulance program at all now that it’s functioning on its own.
Abbott also responded to criticism Iola’s ambulance personnel have received from Allen County officials.
“I’m a little reluctant to be receptive to a lot of things as long as our employees keep getting bombarded from across the street,” Abbott said.
“I don’t know if I made the right decision” for Iola to start its own EMS service, he continued. “I think I did. And I think Iola’s citizens are getting better service today than they have in the past. (City crews) are doing a hell of a job. Leave them alone.
“The city of Iola is not the one with the problem right now,” he concluded.
Mayor Bill Maness spoke about ongoing talks he’s had with Allen County Commissioner Rob Francis and Nathan Cunningham, the interim director of Allen County EMS.
“It’s been very refreshing to have these open and candid discussions with no hostility,” Maness said. “We haven’t arrived at any changes in particular that I think would benefit the city. But when there’s an opportunity to work with the county emergency services, we are very receptive.”

ENERGY WAS the focus of a number of discussions at Tuesday’s meeting.
Iolan Jeff Rexwinkle spoke about the potential of developing wind energy. He wondered if the city could install windmills in newly vacated land in south Iola to save on electricity purchases.
The cost of building the windmills could be paid for through utility savings, Rexwinkle suggested.
Maness said he, too, was interested in developing wind energy, but noted a number of studies indicate Iola’s location is not ideal because of the lack of sustained wind.
“But I’d still like to a see a cost-benefit analysis of developing wind energy here,” Maness said.
Commissioners tabled talks on the city’s operating agreement with the Kansas Power Pool, from whom the city purchases wholesale electricity.
Commissioners also declined to act on the city’s contract to purchase a portion of its natural gas from N & B Enterprises, a local gas company.
The current contract expires at the end of the month, and N & B is requested increasing its transportation costs 80 percent, from 12 cents per thousand cubic feet to 20 cents per mcf.
Commissioners said they would be interested in renewing the contract, but only at its current 12 cents per mcf transportation costs. The city pays that amount to Southern Star for the rest of its natural gas.
“I’m just not seeing the benefit of paying more,” Maness said.
They directed City Attorney Chuck Apt to continue negotiating with N & B representatives to determine if a deal can be reached.

COMMISSIONERS voted 2-1, Abbott opposed, to match a $400,000 Community Development Block grant funding renovation of the Iola Public Library but declined to act on $65,000 architect’s fees until other information is available.
Commissioners also discussed their hopes to renew a community revitalization project, through which residents living between Spruce and Garfield streets could repair or build new to increase the value of their properties without immediately paying higher property taxes.
The existing revitalization plan expires this year. The city hopes to get Allen County, Allen County Community College and USD 257 to join with the property tax abatements.
County commissioners have threatened to pull out of the program because the city has approved revitalization projects outside previously designated zones.

IOLA received a $33,218.33 check from Debbie Taiclet of Iola Insurance Associates through its insurance refund program.
Commissioners also accepted the resignation of firefighter Jeremy Ellington. Ellington, who has been a city employee for 10 years, is taking a job in Wichita.