With no dissent Tuesday night, the Pine Bluff City Council voted to approve a five-year exclusive franchise agreement with Emergency Ambulance Service INC., (EASI) to provide service in the city limits.


The current agreement with EASI expires Sept. 20. and the company was the recommended by a search committee that looked at proposals submitted by EASI and Pafford Medical Services, which currently provides air ambulance service to the area and is based at the airport.


The selection committee voted unanimously to recommend EASI, saying in a report to the council that the company ‘s proposal met or exceeded all specifications of the city’s Request for Proposals, while Pafford’ s did not.


Before the vote, Josh Bishop, the CEO of EASI, said his company has been in business in Pine Bluff for 45 years and hopes to remain. He said that the company has spent $1-million to purchase three buildings on West 5th Avenue that used to belong to Smart Chevrolet and converted them to a dispatch center and office, crew quarters, along with a mechanic shop. He said all that money has been spent locally.


He said the company’s annual payroll is between $2.7 and $3 million, with much of that being paid to Pine Bluff residents. Also, Bishop said EASI recently invested $400,000 to purchase a cardiac monitoring transmittal system so that results can be transmitted immediately to Jefferson Regional Medical Center.


Bishop also touted the company’s annual membership drive, which offers reduced costs of ambulance service. He said he told Mayor Shirley Washington that the most recent membership drive resulted in several thousand people signing up, many in Pine Bluff.


Alderman Bill Brumett, who, at an earlier meeting had expressed concerns about the service and response times of EASI, said that he and Bishop had sat down and talked. Alderwoman Thelma Walker thanked Bishop for his cooperation during the search process.


In addition to approving the proposed ordinance, the council also approved an emergency clause, meaning that the agreement takes effect immediately.


On another matter, the council voted 5-3 to reject a proposed ordinance that would have allowed the wives of former police officers who retired under the old city retirement system to continue to receive monthly benefits after the former officer dies.


Brumett and Walker were joined by Alderman Lloyd Holcomb in voting for the proposal, which was first introduced earlier this year but has been tabled for several months while city officials tried to find the money to cover the benefits.


“I can’t support this because we can’t find the funds,” Alderman Bruce Lockett said. “We’ve searched high and low but there’s no funding that would allow us to commit to this.”


In addition to Lockett, Aldermen Steven Mays, Glen Brown Jr., Win Trafford and Donald Hatchett voted no.


Based on a letter from the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System, which manages the retirement for police officers and firefighters now, it would have cost the city an additional $6,606 per month to add the benefits for the officers’ wives. That marriage provision was limited to officers who married after retiring but before Dec. 31, 2016, and remained married for at least five years at the time of the officer’s death.


The proposal would have affected less than 10 retired officers.