Leaders consider tax increase to drive up ambulance coverage across Stone County
WIGGINS, Miss. (WLOX) - A tax increase for Wiggins and Stone County residents is under debate in efforts to drive up emergency medical response.
Currently, American Medical Response (AMR) runs two ambulances during the day and one during the night, on the move to save lives across the county’s estimated 445 square miles.
“AMR does an outstanding job for us and the community. But the reality of it is, they can only do so much,” said Kevin Holland, Memorial Health System’s Vice President of Operations.
Holland said he is witnessing the need for greater medical presence and pushing for more resources.
“The recent growth of Stone County, along with how busy our highways are, and we are geographically a large county, we need additional coverage,” he told WLOX.
Holland asked the Stone County Board of Supervisors for $175,000 per year and the Wiggins City Council for $75,000. Since neither have that money readily available, budget talks include possible tax hikes.
First responders with the Stone County Sheriff’s Office are okay with that.
“Even if we have to pay a little bit more taxes, a life is worth it,” Chief Deputy Phyllis Olds said.
Right now, Memorial pays about $200,000 per year for AMR’s service in the area.
“While AMR provides the service, we have helped subsidize the ambulance service for their presence here in Stone County since we arrived in 2019,” Holland explained.
Memorial health officials plan to continue paying the amount. But with county and city support, Holland is proposing an annual subsidy of $450,000.
“Our county’s widespread, and it’s very rural,” Olds said. “We need an ambulance real quick, it’s hard for them to get to us real fast.”
Olds has served the community for about 25 years, which means she worked before the county even had a hospital. But along with the times, the area has changed.
“Every minute in somebody’s life counts on that ambulance when they need it,” she said. “There has been times that we needed an ambulance, and we didn’t have an ambulance. We had to wait on one.”
She recalled one heart-attack victim. For her team, the wait often means life or death.
“A lot of times, lately, we’re calling for either Life Flight or Rescue Seven because we have to get people up and get them out quick,” Olds said.
According to Supervisor Clark Byrd, the county currently budgets 1.5 mils a year for medical response by air. The county is considering adding another 1.5 mils to address ambulance services on the road.
City leaders are considering a similar tax increase, which is included in its already-proposed 2.4 mils increase addressing multiple funding needs.
With the additional money, the county, city and Memorial would pay for two more ambulances manned by two additional crews to run 24-7 throughout the area.
Wiggins is holding a public hearing on the matter Friday, September 1. Stone County is holding a public hearing on the matter Friday, September 15 at 9 a.m.
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