Questions about mustard or mayo pale next to life-and-death issues

Somewhere in the midst of all the knee-jerk reaction to the city’s bid process lies the truth. Let’s hope we find it before our waffling City Council does something stupid regarding emergency ambulance services.

First, let’s agree our elected city leaders and staff haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory as they’ve muddled through the confusing series of events that still leaves future food service at Tiara Rado and Lincoln Park golf courses lost somewhere out in the rough. A Rube Goldberg process, a suspiciously timed audit and a questionably noticed meeting all serve to raise questions, as does the poor treatment of a long-time lessee at the Piñon Grill.

Missing in all that is the answer to one basic question:

Is it OK for the staff at Two Rivers Convention Center to provide food service to other city-owned facilities just as it already does for JUCO and other activities at the stadiums in Lincoln Park? Or, put another way, is it OK to expect city taxpayers to pay a higher subsidy for the operation of Two Rivers in order to provide a business opportunity for the private sector at the two city-owned golf courses?

A lot of folks, including some people who write letters to the editor and columns for this very newspaper, are way over on the “private sector above all” side of those questions. Those folks are also presumably supportive of Mesa County’s “Open for Business” initiative that waives the usual fees for developers but sticks the rest of us county taxpayers for the ongoing costs of the permitting operation those fees usually support.

Curious, isn’t it, that folks who rant about keeping the damned government out of our lives don’t seem to mind having their government subsidize private business with their tax dollars? But I digress.

All this back-and-forth about who’s going to serve your sandwich at the golf course, whether or not they can cater parties and events and use a city facility to compete with other private businesses to do so, pales in comparison to the decision to be made regarding ambulance services.

Golf course munchies are not the same thing as emergency ambulance services. Mustard or mayo isn’t the same kind of question as life or death.

We’ve had a little experience, in my extended family, with local emergency services. We’ve seen the confusion under the old system when, after city EMTs stabilized a family member, they stood aside while a private company transported the patient to the hospital.

More to the point, that private company collected from the insurance company. City taxpayers footed the bill for the most important initial portion of that call.

That didn’t make sense to me five years ago, when I was part of the slim City Council majority that set in place the current system, where the fire department handles both parts of emergency response and, not incidentally, gets reimbursed for part of that by the insurance companies. And it makes absolutely no sense now to go back to that old system that had two sets of responders, public and private, showing up at emergency situations with all their flashing lights and expensive equipment.

Reverting to the old system also raises the question of what the city would do with the additional ambulances and equipment purchased to handle the fire department’s added role over the past five years. Not to mention the more important part of that equation: What happens to the staff of cross-trained firefighter-EMTs who not only respond to urgent medical calls (the lion’s share of all emergency calls) but also add to the department’s capability to fight fires?

It’s also worth noting that five years ago, during the initial months when the fire department assumed responsibility for ambulance service, response times actually improved, despite being short-staffed because of hiring delays caused by the extended discussion. Not an inconsequential consideration during an event when a minute or two, or even a few seconds, can be critical.

Reasonable folks might mount decent competing arguments about who should run the Piñon Grill and the concessions at the Lincoln Park Golf Course. There’s no question about who I’d rather have rushing to my door the next time I fall off my roof while hooking up the cooler or when my 90-year-old mother dials 9-1-1.

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