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Union chief says City-County agreement shortchanges EMS service

Friday, January 18, 2013 by Michael Kanin

The head of the Austin-Travis County EMS Employees Union continued yesterday to criticize a new interlocal agreement between the city and Travis County that will govern local Emergency Medical Services.


At Thursday’s Council meeting, Tony Marquardt remained adamant that the agreement would not provide enough resources for his members to cover the area. “(The agreement) is not providing us the necessary resources to do our job properly,” he said.


However, Council members unanimously approved the deal over Marquardt’s objections. Austin-Travis County EMS Chief Ernie Rodriguez told those in Council Chambers that the new agreement would be a bridge to something better down the road. “I would like…you to allow me to complete negotiation and execution of this agreement,” he told skeptical Council members. “This agreement allows us to carry on in the way that we’re operating today…I will use the remaining nine months of this agreement to negotiate the next agreement and that’s where the heavy lifting is going to occur.”


The new EMS interlocal is long in coming. The old agreement expired in September, as city and county officials became bogged down in what Travis County Emergency Services Chief Executive Danny Hobby admitted was an attempt by both sides to “do something totally different.”


“Under the current agreement, we basically have a problem when it comes to adding on, either on their side or our side,” Hobby said at the time. He also noted that problems arise, under the existing structure, any time either the city or the county tries to expand service. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 6, 2012.)


On Tuesday, Travis County Commissioners approved an extension of the existing interlocal. Their action came without a new 24/7 station in Austin’s Colony, more staffing at stations in Bee Caves and Pflugerville, and roughly $600,000 worth of replacement ambulances and other vehicles.


“It’s always disappointing to have to do this year after year and have a hundred jobs in the balance. That’s contributing a lot of anxiety, and it’s contributing to morale issues,” said Marquardt said at the time. “We want to do a really great job in the community, and we want y’all to give us the tools we need to accomplish that, based on what y’all have already granted for us.” (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 16, 2013.)


It’s all cast against the backdrop of deep criticism of the department from Public Safety Commissioner Mike Levy. Levy’s concern resulted in a resolution from the Public Safety Commission that called for an audit of the service. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 11, 2013.)


Marquardt continued to press his concerns on Thursday morning. He placed the lack of new units in terms of city resources. “By not adding these units, we’re taking away from city resources,” he said.


For his part, Rodriguez admitted to some county inadequacies. “For quite a few years, the county has not added any additional resources to help EMS cover the areas that we need,” he said. “Presently, we can only cover 60 percent of the county…When calls occur in the county, I have to send an ambulance out of the city to cover it because there are not enough resources out there.”


Rodriguez added that county officials had delayed adding resources for nearly a decade. That gap, he noted, added extra costs on top of those that would have to go toward adding those resources. He said that, when presented with the total cost of acquiring those resources, county officials “got sticker shock.”


Still, Rodriguez pushed for adoption of the agreement. Council eventually passed the agreement on a 6-0 vote as part of the consent motion for the day’s agenda.

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