The Palmview City Council has found itself in a quandary that the state, federal and local governments have had to grapple with since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: whether to prioritize the struggling economy or coronavirus response efforts.
For Palmview, though, the question wasn’t about whether to re-open businesses but about whether to use coronavirus relief aid funds to dole out grants to residents, or to purchase a new ambulance for its emergency medical services.
The council voted 3-2 to approve the latter for a cost of $25,000 as part of the city’s agreement to purchase an Infectious Disease Response Unit.
The IDRU will also include a cot for $4,000, a heart monitor for $5,000, EMS software for $5,070, and medical supplies for a cost of $7,411.
Palmview launched its EMS in 2018 and currently has two ambulances — one for Palmview and another in Alton. The cities entered into an agreement in April 2019 through which Palmview EMS agreed to service the Alton area.
Held during a special meeting on Tuesday, the discussion on whether to purchase that third ambulance to serve as a backup in the Palmview area was a 23-minute long heated debate on the issue among the council.
Palmview Fire Chief Jerry Alaniz said the county and surrounding cities were being stretched to their limits because of a surge in COVID-19 related calls.
Alaniz reported that as of June 15, their EMS department responded to 215 calls for service when, typically, they average 140 calls in a month.
“We’re almost doubling that in a couple of weeks,” Alaniz said. “Our backup providers are calling us to back them up because they don’t have enough ambulances themselves, hence the reason why the county came in to request state assets to assist. Not just the public entities, but the private entities.”
The state sent strike teams to Hidalgo County that included 10 ambulances, one of which was assigned to the Palmview area, according to Alaniz.
He added that Palmview EMS as well as private companies such as Med-Care and Hidalgo County EMS were having to pool their resources together to provide services in the area.
“So when we call for backup, they don’t have units available because they’re getting inundated themselves,” Alaniz said.
“The purpose here and the purpose of COVID monies is unexpected budgetary constraints that were not projected at the beginning of the final year,” he said. “When you have 215 calls in the past three of four weeks, that is an unprecedented amount of calls.”
Councilman Jose Luis Perez said he was concerned over maintenance and personnel costs that the city would have to deal with for the next two to three years, and indicated he would prefer to use those funds to help their local businesses.
The city previously approved a relief fund for local businesses that would dole out grants of varying amounts depending on the size of the business.
Perez, however, thought that with the cost of the ambulance and the accompanying equipment, they instead could issue 46 more grants fo $1,000 each.
“What I see is $46,000 that we can use for the community,” Perez said. “When we do this purchase, we have to understand that in two, three years we’re going to have these expenses also with it.”
But to Councilman Javier Ramirez, the urgency of the current situation outweighed future concerns.
“I understand that three or four years from now we will have these expenses, however, the COVID-19 is here today and we must take care of that problem today,” Ramirez said during the meeting. “We will cross that bridge when we have to. Right now, the bridge we need to cross is COVID-19 relief and that is of the utmost importance to public safety and to every single citizen around the globe. Not just here in Palmview; around the world.”
Also in favor of the ambulance was Councilman Joel Garcia, who said he expected the city to keep growing and believed the city would eventually need a new ambulance anyway.
“I see this city, three or four years, being a big city,” Garcia said. “We’re probably going to need more ambulances, we’re probably going to need more units, we’re probably going to need more of everything. This city is not gong to stay the same for the next three or four years; it’s growing as we can see.”
Council Anthony Uresti, however, voted against the purchase, telling the council and the public that he wished to hear more options.
Uresti did make one suggestion, though, which was to pull the ambulance Palmview currently has in Alton.
“If we better want to serve our citizens of Palmview, a suggestion from me, because as Mr. Ramirez said, COVID is here today: give city of Alton their 30-day notice that we’re going to have to pull the ambulance from the city of Alton and bring it back to Palmview and we better serve the citizens of Palmview,” Uresti said.
Ramirez, however, said he was against removing a safety measure from a neighboring city.
“At the end of the day, it’s about saving all lives,” Ramirez said.
After each of the council members said their piece, they approved the purchases in a split vote — council members Linda Sarabia, Ramirez and Garcia voted in approval while Perez and Uresti voted against the measure.
“Not every mind is alike and obviously it’s demonstrated here,” said Mayor Ricardo “Rick” Villarreal. “We gotta be thankful for what we have and not unthankful for what we wish we had and right now we have this money and I believe we’re going to go ahead and go with what the majority of (council) says and does which is what they feel is going to be in the best interest for the community.”