County Council chairman responds to councilman's published commentary

The editor: Over the past two years, much has been said about the Laurens County EMS system, to the facts and untruths of being more cost effective and need for better services. In a recent article in this paper by County Councilman (Stewart) Jones, he made remarks about the county’s EMS operations, by saying we needed to look at proactive solutions like EMS partnerships and privatization in order to save money to use elsewhere in the county. There is a difference in a solution and an idea. An idea might work and it might not. To start with, as chairman and a member of County Council, I have to do what I think is best for the county citizens as a whole. We agree or disagree, take a vote and move on to other things. Over the past five years, we have been shorted five and a half million dollars in funds from the state to keep state-mandated operations in the county running. What do you do? This is a lot of money to make up by taking what you have and continue the services provided to the county citizens. I have always said that the job of a county councilman was to use the tax money collected to provide services. Last year Laurens County EMS system was voted best in the state for a system of its size. Why would you want to fix something that isn’t broke? It has been a long time since I have received a complaint of our EMS system. EMS is a service to the citizens of our county. It is a service that will never be there to make money off our citizens. It is a service that when you call 911 that will bring you help as soon as possible. No questions asked. I have always said “there is nothing like seeing help coming when you need it”. Some people pay, some people cannot pay, and some people can pay and will not. This system was built, and has been operated by very knowledgeable people over the past 20 to 30 years. Approximately two years ago, the county was approached by two different private providers, who came to county council meetings complained about what the other provider was doing wrong, and since have done anything they could to try to tear down our EMS system, and tried to reduce the moral of our employees, and to move their agendas forward. These are people that want to make a fast buck off the county. These, as I said private providers, who want to tell you how they can save you so much money, but are only in it to make money from our citizens, not to provide the service to our citizens. This has been tried in the past. They might save you a little money in the start, to get you to a point that you depend on them. Then after you have destroyed what you built over the past years, they come back and tell you, we cannot do this anymore for this price. Then what do we do? Over the past 14 years I have served on council, I have and will continue to put the county citizens and employees of this county first. I have worked for the right of the people and worked to keep cost to a minimum. I discovered a long time ago that it does no good to just say no on County Council. You have to compromise and get the best for your cause. These private providers use social media to push their agendas. One thing they say is, I am against private business, which I can answer by saying I have had a private business over thirty years and know the task of operation. I ask the citizens of this county to call their county representative and express how you feel about someone trying to destroy what was built by tax money, for the citizens of this county. We do not need to call 911, for help and have someone come more concerned about how they will be paid, rather than giving the care that the LCEMS provides. We tried in the past two years to use the services of private providers through a “provider agreement.” This is to protect the county from anything unethical the provider would do. It was not good enough for them, with one saying” Laurens County was not going to tell him what to do”. Why would we trust the health and welfare to someone with this attitude? Laurens County needs to continue seeking ways to support and maintain our award-winning EMS and we need to stand by the men and women who work very hard to make a difference in the lives of our citizens and visitors. Continued rhetoric echoing from a member of county council initiated by individuals wanting to secure profit needs to stop. It is not an issue of inefficiency or mismanagement, It is the lack of available revenue to provide the resources needed to enhance our EMS system. Mr. Jones also talks in his article about all the money that can be saved and placed elsewhere, by using private providers. Every dime taken from our EMS system by a private provider is a dime less that we have to operate our system with. Is our system perfect? No system is perfect, but with the limited funds supplied for our system, in my opinion, it is as good as it can be with dedicated leaders and technicians we have in Laurens County. A lot was said in his article about taxes. Laurens County has done well in the past five years to balance budgets with the shortage of funds from the state, with very little increased cost to the taxpayer. I ask you as a citizen to review your tax statements from the county for the past five years under county operating expenses. We have nothing to do with the tax paid to schools, which is approximately 75% of your tax bill. This is also true with your vehicle tax. Due to shortages in the past years, our employees have not had an increase in pay or cost of living raise. In our budget this year I proposed a 50-cent per hour raise for our employees. This would give everyone the same amount. We are losing employees to others that pay higher wages. We have to try to retain employees, because every time we lose someone, it cost us money. I proposed this by saying our backs were to the wall with our shortages. It would have been a four-mill tax increase to do this, which would not be possible because of State Act 388. We developed enough growth, and with the moving of funds for deficit control were able to include this in this year’s budget, without any new taxes. When you lose a good employee it cost to replace that person. I believe that everyone sitting on County Council, has, in our hearts the best interest of our county’s future. Joseph E Wood Jr. Laurens County Council Chairman District Two Representative

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