Pharr to end EMS contract with Hidalgo County citing ‘financial hardship’

Pharr EMS personnel can be seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: City of Pharr/Facebook)

The city of Pharr is terminating its interlocal cooperative agreement to provide emergency medical services to portions of western Hidalgo County.

In a letter acquired by The Monitor and dated Aug. 22, the city cited an “assessment of the fiscal feasibility of providing EMS services” to the rural area its notice to the county.

The letter, which was addressed to Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez, goes on to explain that the city of Pharr can not continue with the agreement without facing “substantial financial hardship.”

The area in question is Hidalgo County Precinct 3, which includes parts of Linn San Manuel, Mission, Sullivan City, La Joya, Peñitas, Alton, Palmhurst, McAllen and Edinburg.

“While the City would like to continue to provide these critical services, it simply cannot continue to do so under the terms as written,” the letter read. “The only way the City could continue to provide these services would be for the County to increase its current subsidy for the provision of EMS services.”

The letter, which was signed by former City Manager Andy Harvey, goes on to provide four options for future subsidies. Harvey resigned from that position last week, and on Monday, he resigned as chief of police, too.

The options include proposals for the county to pay between $1.72 million and $2.3 million for the city’s emergency medical services. The proposals also include payment options for the county.

In the letter, the city invoked Article VIII Section 8.01 of the agreement, which allows the city to give the county a 30 days’ notice to terminate the contract. The clock began the day the city sent the county the letter. Tuesday will mark the 23rd day since the letter was sent.

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez said that to his knowledge, the county has yet to respond to the letter.

“They said that they’re aware of it and would look into it,” Hernandez said Monday. “Obviously, they realize that they are legally responsible for that service, to provide that service to those areas. They have a decision to make. That’s all I know.”

Hernandez said that he would be reaching out to the county to see if there is any interest in the city’s proposals.

“Our letter is pretty crystal clear on what our position is,” Hernandez said. “We don’t mind helping people out. The city of Pharr is not going to be paying for other people’s services outside the city limits.”

Cortez said Monday that the letter came as a surprise to the county.

“They had been talking — that they were having some financial issues with their ambulance department over there, and that they may have to start charging money for the 9-11 services,” Cortez said. “So we knew that they were having some issues, but when we received the letter and were only given 30 days, well then obviously it set everything in motion.”

The county judge said that the county has fallback positions for such scenarios. He said that the county is prepared to continue to provide services to the affected area of the county.

“Hidalgo County is made up of 22 cities and four emergency services districts, so 22 cities and four emergency service districts are in charge — are responsible for that service,” Cortez said. “Precinct 3 is the only one that doesn’t have an emergency service district, so we’re only talking about the western part of the county. But we have fallback positions to make sure that the service continues there.

“Obviously we’re concerned because that adds an additional burden to the county’s budget to pay for things that we hadn’t been paying, ever,” he continued. “We had never payed for those services in the past, so we never budgeted for those expenses. Now it appears that that’s no longer the case and we’re going to have to budget for it.”