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Some volunteers brought heavy equipment to facilitate easier cleanup of the EMS area. (Photos by Philip Schmitten)
City demands lead to interruption of ambulance service
By Tony Farkas
GROVETON — A disagreement over the status of property in Groveton has led to the suspension of ambulance service for the city, and the suspension of city subsidies to the EMS business.
City officials said there has been a disagreement over the last year that came to a head at the city meeting on Sept. 28.
Mayor Byron Richards said the city has an ordinance regarding dilapidated buildings, and Groveton EMS operator David Robison, a private ambulance operator in Groveton, has been asked by the city for more than a year to clean up his property, which was destroyed in a fire in June 2018.
Robison, however, said significant improvement had been made, and there only is small debris and ash there, and all the large stuff is gone.
“He said it was not done to his satisfaction,” Robison said. “I don’t like it any more than the next guy, but it’s expensive to clean up, and was going to cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 to get it removed. I haven’t had the money.”
Richards said that at the meeting, Robison told council members that when the rest of Groveton is cleaned up, he’ll clean up his property.
“We’ll all be dead by that time, probably,” Richards said.
Robison said he told council members that there were other properties in the city that were in worse shape than his, and was told that was not the concern, only his property was.
Richards said the city had been giving Groveton EMS $1,000 per month to help subsidize the business, but since Robison “was intractable about giving us a time of when he could get the property cleaned up, we decided to temporarily suspend funding until he understands he needs to comply with the ordinance.”
On the Groveton EMS Facebook page, Robison wrote, “It appears the City of Groveton no longer wishes Groveton EMS to be the city’s ambulance provider. The City Council voted to stop funding the service effective immediately. The reason given by Mayor Byron Richards was: ‘David Robison has not cleaned up his personal property to my satisfaction. Therefore, I will entertain a motion to cease payments to Groveton EMS immediately.’
“… When pointed out that many other properties are much worse — many with dangerous, dilapidated buildings and huge amounts of refuse, the Mayor said, ‘That’s been going on for 70 years. We don’t care about that. We want you to clean your property.’
“My heart is absolutely broken. We have worked day and night to serve our community. I’ve done this for years without a paycheck. Every month my wife has to give back part of her check to make sure all our bills are paid. Since the Covid-19 pandemic times have been especially tough. My family and I have sacrificed so much to serve this community. I cannot believe the mayor and City Council no longer wish for us to continue.
“We will continue to serve Trinity County. We are exploring our options for Groveton. The city has not secured any other service as of yet.”
Richards said that after the discussion, Robison stormed out, threatened to file charges, and the next day sent a letter that he was going to end ambulance service at midnight on Sept. 30.
“I’m trying to get in touch with the state Health Department because I don’t think he can do that,” Richards said. “He’s stationed here and the contract he has with Trinity County is basically a contract for Groveton because this is where he serves people.
Robison said he has filed a complaint with the state of Texas, saying the city was guilty of official oppression and abuse of office.
“The mayor chose to call me into the City Council and said that I have not cleaned up my personal property,” he said. “We’re only breaking even every month. I don’t take a salary, and my wife, who takes a small salary, returns it for whatever we need, such as payroll or utilities.
“We tried to get a contract for a subsidy, but the mayor elected to make it a monthly donation,” Robison said. “That was five years ago. We’re not making any money, and my house burned down, and I lost more than $750,000.”
Richards said he hopes this can be worked out.
“We want to support him, but we don’t want to support people who throw mud in your face,” Richards said. “We’re trying to clean the town up, but that’s a project that will go on for a long time. We want ambulance service here, and we’re trying to work this out and come to an amicable end.”