YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The biggest issue discussed at a special council meeting Friday was why a nearby ambulance company was never made aware that the city of Youngstown was looking for services.
Youngstown City Council voted Friday to approve American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to enter into a new contract with Emergency Medical Transport (EMT).
The agreement means Youngstown will pay EMT nearly $4 million for a three-year contract, beginning January 1, 2023.
However, Friday’s vote came with most members of council voicing frustration.
Councilwoman Lauren McNally questioned how EMT came into the picture after a request for proposal (rfp) was issued in October to see if any other companies wanted to come to the city and no other company answered besides American Medical Response.
Mayor Tito Brown said they started reaching out to other cities and says he called the mayor of Warren and inquired about EMT, which services Warren.
However, fire Chief Barry Finley said the owner of EMT, Kenneth Joseph, reached out to the city.
“Ken reached out to me two Thursdays ago and told me he was interested in providing an ambulance provider to the city,” Finley said.
Finley says he was told by the law department that the rfp was only put out locally, and somehow it never reached EMT, which is the largest ambulance service in the state.
“I knew there was a contract negotiation going on in the city, but I didn’t know it got to the point that an rfp was going out,” Joseph said.
Joseph said once he was made aware by word of mouth that the city was looking for a new ambulance service, he contacted Chief Finley.
Councilwoman Samantha Turner stated had the rfp reached companies farther out, it’s possible the city would have gotten more responses.
“What I can’t quite wrap my head around is how the mayor, you belong to a lot of mayor’s organizations around the state, …how is it that a city right next to ours, that I know you have a relationship with, and this was never an option… until Chief Finley found them,” McNally said.
Brown responded by saying he did reach out to mayors across the state and said they called other small ambulance services.
“I just can’t think of everything, and we continue to work on it and I’m only one, there’s seven members of city council. So, to say it’s just one person it’s just not that way,” Brown said.
McNally and Brown continued to go back and forth for several minutes. McNally claiming she has put in work on this issue for several years, with no response from the administration. Brown stating that this topic should be focused on the people of the city, not the issues between council and the administration.
Later in the meeting, councilwoman Turner raised the question of how the city will sustain these services after three years and after ARP funds are no longer an option.
Finley said he and the mayor have been in talks about developing a plan to see what’s best for the city in the future. He mentioned the possibility of hiring a third-party company to come in and conduct a study on whether it is more feasible to stick with a private ambulance company or for the city to create an ambulance service itself.
“How long until we actually see legislation for this feasibility study?” McNally asked.
Kyle Miasek, finance director, said they will be setting aside funds from the general fund and hopefully choose a third-party entity by May of next year to get the ball rolling.
In the end, council voted to approve the $3.9 million in ARPA funds to support the contract with EMT with a 5 – 1 vote. With Councilman Jimmy Hughes being the only council person to vote no.
Because council did not get six votes, which is required for an emergency passage, the contract technically cannot start for 30 days. However, EMT has agreed to provide services to the city beginning January 1 and will receive its first payment on January 16.
This agreement comes just two weeks before the current contract ends with AMR.
“You’re robbing us and leaving our citizens at risk, and you expected us to pay you,” Councilman Julius Oliver said of AMR.
Oliver said he stands by his decision to vote no to paying AMR from the beginning and felt he would rather pay a company with a better track record, such as EMT.
“This company came out of nowhere, we’re getting brand new equipment, I hope we don’t have to deal with the same service,” Oliver said.
EMT has been in service for 26 years. It currently has about 200 ambulances in service throughout Ohio and West Virginia.
Councilwoman Basia Adamzack and council president Tom Hetrick were not present during the meeting.