Residents voice concerns about elimination of EMS position

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Irate Maybell residents turned out to voice their opinions about the newly cut Maybell emergency medical services coordinator position.

There was standing room only in Maybell Community Hall at a meeting with Moffat County Commissioners Tuesday night.

The temperature outside was in single digits, but inside people were requesting that the thermostat be turned down. Rising tempers added to the overall heat of the meeting.

Of the 44 people in attendance, more than 20 had questions or comments for the commissioners. For almost an hour and a half, nearly every statement addressed the cut.

Effective in March, Karen Burley's job will be cut in an effort by commissioners to balance the budget and decrease spending in 2004.

"We're talking about life," one woman in attendance told commissioners. Her simple statement summed up the mindset of most of those who spoke.

Two EMTs in attendance cried while speaking. An elderly woman cried while listening.

"I can't sit and watch my neighbors die," Sherrie Johnson, Maybell Ambulance Service EMT, said.

Former commissioner T. Wright Dickinson told commissioners they had to reconsider cutting Burley.

"I believe this is an essential service," Dickinson said. "I was here when this community said they couldn't go on like this. I believe this position is worth the risk and money it takes to retain it."

To keep people from talking over one another, Commissioner Les Hampton began making a list of names and calling on people to speak in turn. Commissioners did not attempt to answer the barrage of questions, but seemed to listen intently.

Some people said that although they understood budget cuts needed to be made, the cuts shouldn't be made in areas effecting safety. They said the money the county would save by cutting the position would be lost if even one lawsuit developed out of the cut.

Several employees of Colowyo Coal Company attended the meeting to show support for Burley, who regularly hosts first-aid classes for the mine.

"It bothers me that we may not be able to rely on the ambulance service to respond to an emergency," said Dave Arnold, Colowyo employee.

Citizens said quick emergency response time is vital to the young and old alike.

"As a neighbor, I see your grandkids riding on four-wheelers," Scott Shaffer told commissioner Darryl Steele. "What if one of them breaks their neck? What about mine? Who are we going to be waiting for?"

Burley said that Maybell has an aging population that needs immediate care during a heart-related emergency.

In the late '70s and early '80s, many young ranchers worked around Maybell during the day, so it was possible to always have individuals available to respond to an emergency call. Today, five of the six volunteers on the ambulance crew work in Craig, so it is necessary to have a full-time employee on hand to respond to calls, residents said.

Some people pointed out that the western half of Moffat County is a popular recreation area for the entire county, and questioned how Craig residents would feel knowing help was so far away when they visited Brown's Park.

Toward the end of the discussion, commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos asked the assembled group, "Am I clearly hearing the community say, 'This volunteer service isn't going to work for us?'"

Her question was met with a resounding 'yes."

The commissioners didn't promise anyone anything, except to take another look at the position once the ending fund balance for 2003 is known. Raftopoulos said she felt optimistic that the county could end the year with $200,000 more than the current ending fund estimate.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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