Less than five months into a newly created, paid full-time Emergency Medical Service/first responder position for the city of Rhome, Robert Pratt found his position unceremoniously cut during approval of the city’s budget Thursday night.
By a 3-2 vote, Rhome City Council removed the paid EMS/first responder position.
Council member Jo Ann Wilson argued that the city’s budget wouldn’t stretch that far.
“I recommend the EMS position be eliminated because we can’t afford it, not because Robert (Pratt) isn’t doing a good job,” she said.
Wilson made a motion the city adopt the budget minus the position. Council members Charles Pennington and Ronnie Moore also voted for the proposal. Louis Godfrey and Michelle Pittman voted against.
The council just approved creation of the position earlier this year, and Pratt, Rhome’s fire chief, was hired in May. The position was created to help the city respond to emergency calls during weekdays. The position cost the city $35,000 plus benefits out of the $2.65 million budget.
Godfrey argued that there was plenty of money in the city budget to pay for the position, noting that $18,000 had been relocated from the fire department budget to cover the salaried position.
“It was only going to cost the city $21,000 per year to keep Robert in the position,” he said. “This city is not in a jam, we are doing better than we were last year.”
He noted that the city collected $25,000 more in sales tax revenue than it had budgeted for last year.
“In budget workshops, this was the budget we’d all put together and were all happy about,” Louis added.
Mayor Chris Moore urged the council to keep the position longer.
“Every department has been cutting back,” Moore said. “But we’ve put a lot of work into this, and it needs to stay in place for at least a year. We can look at it later.”
“We’ve just got a lot of other things we need to take care of first, such as street repairs,” Wilson said.
“I don’t think the money is there for it,” he said. “I’ve said that since the beginning.”
But Godfrey felt like it was taking a step backward in protecting citizens by removing the position.
“Some citizen might pay with their life because of this decision,” Godfrey said.
The position was created earlier this year to deal with the problem of lack of first responder coverage during the day Monday through Friday in city limits. During the year before the position was created, the fire department had more than 25 missed calls. But since the creation of the position, the city has missed no calls and has improved average response time, which Pratt said is good for the city’s ISO rating.
“Our response time has dropped to about three-and-a-half to four minutes on average per call since I’ve been on duty,” Pratt said. “The nearest ambulance, if it’s in-house in Boyd, is still 8 minutes away.
“I think they should have least given it a year to see how it is going,” Pratt added. “I think they are compromising the safety and well-being of the citizens of Rhome. They probably set the city back five years.”
Pratt has volunteered for the city’s fire department since 1980. He’s unsure if he’ll continue to serve as chief. His paid position with the city expires on Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.