There’s no way of knowing what Augusta’s commission will decide to do next week with their ambulance service contract, but I get the impression some of them don’t have a clue who they’re messing with.
Gold Cross Emergency Medical has the contract for city ambulance service, just as it does for service with Columbia County and Jefferson County.
Columbia and Jefferson counties are quite happy with their service. And Gold Cross has established a 94 percent on-time response rate in Richmond County under its contract there, so you’d think the commissioners would know to leave well enough alone.
Oh, wait. It’s Richmond County.
Instead, they’re listening to new Fire Chief Chris James, who oddly seems to be picking an uneccessary fight. It isn’t immediately obvious exactly what he expects, but if he thinks he’s going to force Gold Cross to accept a contract that puts him in charge of the ambulance service, he’s got a another think coming.
The main man on the other side of the negotiating table is Bo Pounds, the owner of Gold Cross. Because it’s a private company, he can pick up his marbles and walk away if he wants to. But what James and some of the commissioners might not get is that even without the city contract, Gold Cross would still take 911 emergency calls from Augusta.
That’s because ambulance zones are granted by the state, not local governments. Kicking them out of the contract mostly would mean they’re no longer accountable to the city. So if James thinks he’s going to force Gold Cross to answer more to him, he’s likely to get exactly the opposite.
That would be a rude awakening. We’ll see what happens next week.
Meanwhile, the news that Pounds essentially is giving his company to his employees is pretty incredible. He’s a man who has done quite well for himself – that’s obvious after a walk through his jaw-dropping collection of old ambulances – and he makes it sound like all he’s doing is passing it along to his family.
“I just really wanted to take care of the employees,” Pounds told me. “Hell, they’re the ones who do the work here.”
In a literal sense, he actually is passing it along to his family. He’s giving 25 percent of the company to the employees, and as they buy the rest they’ll be paying his four daughters.
While he’d been planning such a transition for several years, Pounds said he picked up the pace when President Obama was re-elected. Now, if they boost the inheritance tax, he will have managed to keep the feds from one day grabbing a share of what he worked so hard to build.
Good for him. His money goes to his employees. And in the battle of wits between Gold Cross and Richmond County, my money is on him.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)