WALTERS, Okla._Cotton County's ambulance service contract was renewed Thursday for another year, but the cost is going up.
The higher cost is leading some people to wonder how much longer they'll be able to afford it. The Cotton County Ambulance Board's new deal with Samaritan raises the county's payment from $10,000 a month to over $12,000 for the first six months of the deal, and then goes up to more than $13,000 for the last six months.
Even though the board unanimously agreed to renew the contract, it was clear from Thursday's brief meeting that they really want to keep the service. However, they are worried about the financial bind it could create.
Cotton County Board Vice-Chairman Leta Coats said, "If something happened to them, I would pay anything to get them the help they needed."
She agrees that the benefit of the ambulance service should outweigh the cost, but she and other board members know they have to be practical.
"We cannot continue to proceed on with them increasing the funding per month," said Coats.
Charles Vetters, the owner of Samaritan Ambulance, said they have to increase the county's payment to cover higher fuel costs, and to offset a lower call volume than expected. For the first year they averaged 27 calls a months, but this month they only had 21.
"The runs just really are not increasing, and of course without reimbursement from ambulance calls it makes the subsidy go up to keep an ambulance in the county," said Vetters.
Coats said the board has applied for a grant to help cover the increases, but that is not a long term solution.
"That is only going to be a band-aid to help us get through a few more years," said Coats.
Thursday's meeting showed that the people of Cotton County will eventually need to create a permanent funding source, possibly a tax to keep a service that benefits everyone.
"It just helps our county, it helps our cities, it helps our schools if we provide them that service," said Coats.
Putting this new contract into perspective, the previous ambulance operator was receiving $6,000 a month when the service was terminated back in 2010 after complaints about poor service. They went without an ambulance based in Cotton County until they reached a deal last summer with Samaritan.
The new contract signed tonight will now go to the Cotton County Commissioners for approval. Cotton County's current contract with Samaritan Ambulance ends June 30th.