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MATTOON --The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place a moratorium of up to six months on issuing any new ambulance service permits.

City officials have said this hold will give them time to consider coverage options as Dunn's Ambulance prepares to end its local service. This closure will leave Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service as Mattoon's only service. The city ended the fire department's ambulance service on July 25, a move that continued to spark debate at Tuesday's meeting.

City Administrator Kyle Gill said he plans to look at ambulance call data and talk to organizations involved with emergency medical services during the moratorium before making a recommendation on how the city should proceed.

"I don't want to just jump in and make a quick decision," Gill said. He said added that Mitchell-Jerdan, based in Mattoon, has "stepped up" its service and stated that it can handle Mattoon's ambulance needs as the only provider.

Asked what happens if Mitchell-Jerdan cannot meet these needs, council member Preston Owen said the city could end the moratorium in as little as two days if needed and accept ambulance service permit applications. Council member Rick Hall said ambulances from neighboring communities could help if needed in an emergency.

The council heard calls from audience members to bring back the fire department's ambulance service and, if that does not occur, to open applications to a second private service. Current ambulance ordinances limit the number of permits to two.

"The moratorium is so we can look at all options over a six month period," Owen said, noting that the city is still going through contract negotiations with the firefighter union.

Frederick Reynolds, a former firefighter and former Mitchell-Jerdan ambulance crew member, said employee turnover rates are high among private ambulance services due to low compensation and heavy workloads. He said firefighter-paramedics provide more stability in ambulance personnel because they have long careers with their fire departments.

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Reynolds said dispatching fully staffed firefighter-paramedics crews to emergency medical calls reduces the chance of injury as they maneuver heavy stretchers and it improves the health outcome for the patients.

The fire department operated an advanced life support ambulance service from 2010 to 2018. City officials have said that the department's ambulance service lost money and duplicated the work of private providers. Firefighters countered that their service generated needed city revenue and provided essential coverage for Mattoon.

Other actions taken by the council included:

-- Accepting the $295,393 bid of Howell Paving, Inc. of Mattoon for the city's 2019 street resurfacing project. The project includes the milling, patching, and asphalt resurfacing of Western Avenue from 21st to 26th street, 21st from Charleston to Richmond avenues, and Richmond from Logan Street to Holiday Drive.

-- Allocating an $18,000 tourism grant from the hotel/motel tax fund in support of the Mattoon Pride Softball organization for hosting four tournaments on May 9-11, June 7-9, June 28-30, and July 19-21.

-- Approving a second water and sewer billing adjustments in the amount $7,822 on behalf of Anamet Electrical, Inc. and $1,096 on behalf of William Hall due to water leaks.

-- Approving the official city zoning map and the annual publication of this map.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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