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Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield greenlighted two ordinances and approved a new ambulance contract during a commissioner meeting on Oct. 22.

The four-year ambulance contract with CHI Memorial is expected to lower response times, as well as provide the county with an additional ambulance, bringing the dedicated fleet to five vehicles staffed with 44 county-specific crew members.

"We are very appreciative to CHI Memorial for working with us and being our local hospital and stepping up and providing this higher level of care and service," Whitfield said. "This is a win-win for the citizens and also for CHI Memorial."

Compared to the county's former contract with Puckett EMS — an agreement with average response times of up to 40 minutes — CHI Memorial quoted expected average response times of less than 12 minutes in the more urban parts of Walker and less than 18 minutes in the rural areas.

While the new contract costs $250,000 per year, the county will pay $1 million up front to, in part, purchase the necessary vehicle and equipment ahead of time, Whitfield said.

If the county had penned a new contract with its previous contractor for similar stipulations, it would have cost around $4.5 million for the four years, said Whitfield.

The contracted services are slated to begin Feb. 1, 2021.

"We look forward to building partnerships and relationships with the citizens of Walker County and we're excited about what this will bring," said Paul Feaster, director of EMS for CHI Memorial.

 

SPECIAL EVENTS PERMIT

The commissioner also approved a new special events permit which will require those seeking to hold large events to apply for a permit ahead of time if those gatherings meet certain specifications.

A special event is being defined as an activity for entertainment or recreation, such as a festival, race, rodeo, concert, parade, march or film production, "which takes place on a public street, sidewalk or right-of-way, or occurs on private property and impacts government services on public rights-of-way or may impact the health, safety or welfare of the public generally because of the nature of the assembly or the size of the assembly."

The permit will be free for county residents and businesses and is expected to help local first responders and government offices ensure the safety of event attendees.

In a previous meeting, Whitfield said the intent is to help make sure that specific events have the necessary safety protocols in place and that city offices, such as the fire and police departments, are aware of events and can better plan in the case of an emergency.

But there are many exceptions that will not be subject to the permit, such as events held on county and school property, which are already subject to county regulations; events hosted by religious organizations, nonprofits and civic groups; and small private gatherings in which no money is exchanged. Small ventures like lemonade stands will also be exempt.

No citizens commented on the new ordinance before the final vote.

 

INTERNATIONAL PROPERTY MAINTENANCE CODE

After an extended back-and-forth, Whitfield also signed an update to the county's International Property Maintenance Code to require personal outdoor trash containers to have lids to deter animals from rummaging, and to limit the number of inoperable vehicles in front of a house to two out of concern for property values. Any vehicles stored behind a property must be covered with a tarp or vehicle cover when not being actively worked on, the change states.

Among other concerns, citizen Michael Keith questioned why the specific regulations couldn't be left to independent neighborhoods, HOAs and/or small-claims courts if neighbors felt others' actions were devaluing their property.

Whitfield and Walker County Legal Policy Director David Gottlieb said the ordinance is already a compromise, as some citizens had called for no inoperable vehicles to be allowed and others wanted up to three or four.

The commissioner also said that the county will work to help anyone who is out of compliance to follow the new guidelines as needed.

Similar to calls made at the last county meeting to pause proceedings on the special events permit until the new, expanded board of commissioners is instated, citizen Robert Blakemore asked Whitfield to table making changes to the maintenance code until the new year, and said he thinks the change will create undue financial hardship on citizens.

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrathejournalist@gmail.com.

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