County#039;s windfall nice but future still key

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 25, 2005

How would you like to find out that your monthly bills cost you quite a bit less than you had budgeted?

Now, how would you like to find out that your yearly expenses for one bill had cost more than $384,000 less than anticipated?

The Lawrence County Commission received this happy news Thursday when South East Ohio Emergency Medical Services officials informed the commissioners that the agency would return the funds since it was able to operate last year for less than budgeted.

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SEOEMS executive director Eric Kuhn and the other leaders with the agency deserve applause, for spending its money wisely, meaning it could be returned in the county's time of need. Some county departments are still scheduled to run short of funding well before the end of the year.

Kuhn could have just as easily opted to spend the money on equipment and other needs the agency certainly has, but instead agency officials were looking at the big picture. This type of smart management is what the county needs, from top to bottom. It is something that we are still not convinced is in place in many county offices.

However, this latest windfall of money raises two major questions: Would it be profitable for the county to operate its own ambulance service? Will county officials take advantage of this brief reprieve and look to make real changes or will this mean that everything will be status quo until halfway through next year?

No offense to SEOEMS at all, who appear to provide a quality service, but the fact that the agency can operate for less than its budget shows that this could be an area where the county could look to expand.

If the county could operate just as efficiently, focus solely on Lawrence County and make some small profit, this could be a more long-term answer. Would it work? We don't know, but it is certainly something that should be examined - soon.

Secondly, we hope county leaders don't take SEOEMS' gift for granted and decide to sit back and do nothing about the budget that is still not on solid foundation. The county must look at combining 911 services with the sheriff's dispatching, privatizing the ambulance service, cutting departments that are overstaffed and operating more efficiently.

Now is exactly the time to look at changes because these ideas can be considered carefully and completely without the pressure of a looming deadline.

Next year, the county may not be so fortunate. Let's start now to make sure that no surprise rebates will be required.