Bartow County, Georgia commissioners have privatized their public ambulance service.
The commissioners awarded a five-year contract to MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service, a private company headquartered in neighboring Cobb County. Prior to the contract, the county government provided residents with emergency transport services at a loss, putting taxpayers on the hook for $950,000 in deficit spending in Fiscal Year 2018 alone and accumulating a $13.5 million deficit over the past decade.
The contract between the county and MetroAtlanta, which went into effect on July 11, includes guaranteed minimum response times and other provisions ensuring quality service. County officials will review the contract annually for compliance, and the county may opt out if the company fails to meet requirements.
MetroAtlanta has promised to offer employment to existing Bartow County Emergency Medical Services employees.
Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says people living in Bartow County are the real winners in the agreement.
“They’re going to benefit from a successful ambulance service that has a proven track record in other counties,” Dodd said. “They’re going to benefit from an outcomes-based perspective where, obviously, the county is intending to spend less, which means taxpayers aren’t on the hook. With a contract that is based on the ambulance performance, there’s an opportunity to look at another service if they don’t provide the outcomes that they’re promising.”
Austill Stuart, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, says other contracting agreements could deliver similar win-win scenarios.
“A lot of times with municipalities, the first services to get cut are things that are considered more recreational,” Stuart said. “Animal shelters, libraries, things like that can really be hurting for funding in terms of all the other demands that municipalities face. It can be advantageous to outsource some of those activities to people who have experience in the field and also have economies of scale, where they’re doing the same thing in a bunch of different places and have a lot of expertise.”
‘They Have an Obligation’
Dodd says the contract’s terms ensure taxpayer money will be spent for the benefit of Bartow County residents in need of medical help.
“They have an obligation to meet the terms of their contract, which means they expect better performance out of them than the county service that lost $13.5 million over ten years,” Dodd said. “That’s a lot of money in a small county. This kind of consolidated operation and economies of scale can really help Bartow’s taxpayers and provide better service and better equipment.”